Manchester gets a double dose of Michael van Gerwen as the Premier League champion looks to bounce back.

A Rotterdam homecoming didn’t go at all to plan for the world number one. However, van Gerwen will have the chance to return to winning ways at the Manchester Arena. Michael Smith also features twice, with both Michaels having the chance to mathematically secure a playoff spot. Rob Cross and Gary Anderson could too if things go their way, making this a definitive night of Premier League action. Daryl Gurney and Raymond van Barneveld find themselves at the last chance saloon. Peter Wright and Simon Whitlock have already settled the bill there.

Peter Wright vs Michael Smith

Last year’s runner-up has come nowhere close to matching, or topping, that performance. Peter Wright has slunk through the Premier League, beset by drops in form and baffling set changes – even by his standards. He’s now just playing for pride, and the extra cash bonus for finishing higher than seventh, where he currently sits. His opponent has much loftier goals. Michael Smith has had the sort of breakthrough Premier League season that Dave Chisnall enjoyed in 2015. While Chizzy’s run ended in playoff heartbreak, Smith will not fear anyone. To bounce back from a mauling by Gary Anderson to rattle off a 7-1 win over Simon Whitlock the night after showed the sort of temperament that could take Bully Boy all the way. Nobody has won more legs against the throw than the St Helens man. He’s ruthless, and Snakebite looks vulnerable.

Daryl Gurney vs Michael van Gerwen

The Premier League’s top 180-hitter takes to the stage, to play against Michael van Gerwen. Daryl Gurney’s scoring has never been a problem for him. It’s well-known where he falls short. Not that finishing was an issue for him in Rotterdam. In fact, it sparked a lively comeback against Rob Cross, and completely buried Simon Whitlock. Next in his sights is Mighty Mike. Depending on how the Dutchman took last week’s double disappointment in front of his home support, it’s either the best or the absolute worst time to be playing him. Van Gerwen took the weekend off while Gurney headed to Graz; the break may have done him some good.

Steve Welsh/PDC

Photo: Steve Welsh/PDC

Simon Whitlock vs Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson’s average across 17 legs in Rotterdam last week was 109.82. Across 16, Simon Whitlock’s was 90.04. Such a gulf in this game would make it unlikely that it passes the ten-leg mark. Anderson was at his brutal best in the Netherlands, almost earning a nine-darter to cap off a scoring masterclass. Pulverising Michael Smith, who has been a consistently belligerent opponent, sent out a warning to the rest of the league. Having won every game since Judgement Night, Anderson is sitting pretty in third. Having lost every game since Judgement Night, Whitlock has tumbled to eighth. His playoff dreams dashed, the Aussie has got stuck in a rut. In the Premier League, there’s nowhere to hide. The two players have diametrically opposing form, meaning it would take bravery or brazen idiocy to back the Wizard.

Raymond van Barneveld vs Rob Cross

It was written in the stars, wasn’t it? Raymond van Barneveld’s glorious Rotterdam return went exactly to plan. First, Barney excelled in an exhibition-like win over a half-hearted Simon Whitlock. Then he stunned Michael van Gerwen, holding off everything the world number one had to throw at him in a typically Rocky-esque performance. Now he’s back for another bout, though Rob Cross may deal his playoff chances a knockout blow. Though second in the table, Cross knows he needs to accumulate wins to hold off Gary Anderson and Michael Smith. Nobody wants a semi-final against van Gerwen, even if Voltage’s last one against the Dutch ace went so well.

Michael Smith vs Michael van Gerwen

If Michael van Gerwen, Michael Smith, Gary Anderson and Rob Cross all win the first four matches of the evening, a draw or a Smith win would end the playoff race with two weeks left to go. That means the climax in Manchester could be very anti-climactic in the grand scale of things. That said, two very aesthetically-pleasing and mercurially talented players should provide the entertainment without context-based drama. Both are fast, fluent and capable of ridiculous darting feats. The Manchester crowd will be waiting patiently for this one; even though the other ties have star quality, this one feels like it would have top billing even if it wasn’t required to be the final game of the night.

Steve Welsh/PDC

Photo: Steve Welsh/PDC

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Author: Edward McCosh