Schedule & Preview for Play-Offs of 2021 Premier League Darts
A Dutchman, a Portuguese, an Englishman and a Welshman walk into a Premier League Darts play-off. Stop me if you've heard this one. The punchline is one of Michael van Gerwen, Jose de Sousa, Nathan Aspinall or Jonny Clayton having a very lucrative Friday night.
It has been quite the season in 2021 for the Premier League Darts. Glen Durrant and Rob Cross left us early; Gerwyn Price left even earlier than that. His replacement, James Wade, joined Gary Anderson, Peter Wright and Dimitri van den Bergh on the departures list. So who wins it; the table-topper, last year's runner-up, the 180 master or the sudden death qualifier? There's only one way to find out.
The two match-ups are just perfect for pure entertainment value, starting with Michael van Gerwen taking on Jonny Clayton. Whenever the pair meet, there seem to be fireworks. In this year's league phase, a win for Clayton on Night 9 was reversed on Night 11, so the third match will settle the tie.
Van Gerwen is the favourite, both for topping the league and for his innate Van Gerwen-ness. But Clayton comes into this with less pressure to perform, and the knowledge that the five-time champion is fallible. It has been a weird season for Mighty Mike; finishing first is no shock, but throwing by far the fewest scores above 139 of the final four is very odd, as is the up-and-down nature of his match averages.
Clayton has scrapped through the season, failing to win more than two on the spin but also keeping losing streaks to a two-game maximum. Yet if he performs as he did under do-or-die pressure against Dimitri van den Bergh, there's no reason why he can't do as Glen Durrant did last year and win on debut,
Also hoping for a debut triumph is that most wonderful of characters, Jose de Sousa. The Portuguese Man O' Scores, now the record holder for most 180s in a Premier League Darts league phase, meets Nathan Aspinall for the second time in the space of 24 hours. Last time out (I remember it as though it were yesterday), De Sousa opened up by checking out 120 with three tops, Aspinall replied with a 152 checkout, and then after some less mind-bogglingly awesome stuff, De Sousa came out on top to grab second place.
Aspinall was well beaten on Night 16, but the fact of the matter is that there's not a huge difference between him and De Sousa. He'll be mindful of that poor showing, and last year's so-so performance in the final against Glen Durrant, and will be determined to show the Marshall Arena crowd what he's really made of. The worry will be that his form is dipping at the wrong time.
It's the opposite case for De Sousa, who was just two points ahead of Rob Cross at the end of Judgement Night, but took 11 points from a possible 14 after that. His main strength is that incredible scoring and a cool temperament; the problem is that same temperament, which leads to him losing track of his score and making daft mistakes. This has the recipe of another classic, and we can only hope that The Special One lands on Shanghai again.
Van Gerwen or Clayton will then take on De Sousa or Aspinall in the 2021 Premier League Darts final. Either the Dutchman will take the trophy home for the sixth time, or we'll have a new winner joining Van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, Gary Anderson, Raymond van Barneveld and Glen Durrant in the history books.
Schedule 2021 Premier League Darts
Play-Offs - Friday May 28 (19:00 GMT)
Michael van Gerwen v Jonny Clayton
Jose de Sousa v Nathan Aspinall
Van Gerwen/Clayton v De Sousa/Aspinall