St Helens darts star Michael Smith returns for the first night of the 2022 Premier League tonight (February 3).
“Bully Boy” Smith will make his anticipated return to the competition after missing out last year.
Smith has reached the final once before, losing to Michael van Gerwen in 2018.
More recently, he suffered the heartbreak of a World Championship final defeat against Scotland’s Peter Wright.
Smith’s first major PDC title continues to evade him.
He’ll be looking to seize this Premier League opportunity and finally end his hoodoo.
Eight of darts’ best competitors will go head to head over 17 nights to determine this year’s Premier League champion.
Night 1 will take place in Cardiff this evening, as Welshman Jonny Clayton begins his title defence on home soil.
Night 2 will bring the event to Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena next Thursday.
The PDC have created a new format for this year’s competition.
The tournament will now consist of 16 individual knockout tournaments before Night 17’s playoffs.
This comes as a radical change from its traditional round robin league format.
Full details on the new-look format can be found here: https://www.skysports.com/darts/news/12288/12515863/premier-league-darts-tournament-to-undergo-the-most-radical-change-in-its-history
Tonight’s quarter-final fixtures promise entertainment, with a repeat of January’s World Championship final perhaps the most notable of the four:
Michael Smith v Peter Wright
Michael Smith is arguably in the best form of his career right now.
He’ll need to continue that into tonight’s matchup as he’s thrown in at the deep end against one of the tournament favourites.
A good performance from Smith tonight will see him bring considerable momentum to what is essentially his home leg in Liverpool next week.
Peter Wright will be hoping to build on his recent successes as he faces the man he defeated in an electrifying World Championship final.
Wright has never won the Premier League. Both players share a final defeat at the hands of Michael van Gerwen as their best performance in the competition.
Expect a quick start from Smith tonight, but be aware that veteran Wright has proven time and time again that he is capable of responding under pressure.
Michael van Gerwen v Gary Anderson
Five-time champion van Gerwen will be attempting to equal Phil Taylor’s record six Premier League wins this year.
van Gerwen might well have contended Smith and Wright’s positions in the World Championship final last month, but he was forced to withdraw from the competition due to COVID.
Nevertheless, he’ll be among the tournament favourites again as he hopes to start strongly against The Flying Scotsman tonight.
Gary Anderson has won the competition twice himself, but with a pretty poor record against van Gerwen throughout their head-to-head history, don’t be surprised to see him begin this year’s Premier League with defeat.
Jonny Clayton v Joe Cullen
As last year’s champion and in front of a home crowd, Jonny Clayton is bound to be favourite for this matchup.
Clayton achieved a multitude of successes in 2021. Bookies seem to prefer Wright, van Gerwen and Welsh compatriot Gerwyn Price for the Premier League title, but don’t discount Clayton if he can find some form against Joe Cullen this evening.
Cullen will be making his Premier League debut tonight.
He celebrated winning the Masters title only days ago and he could be an interesting player to watch for those invested in finding a dark horse.
Gerwyn Price v James Wade
As a former professional rugby player, Price brings some athletic prowess to darts.
He has undergone a meteoric rise to the top of the darts world rankings in recent times and could well be successful in front of the Welsh fans tonight.
Price was surprisingly knocked out by Smith in the recent World Championship quarter-finals, despite hitting a match nine-darter.
He’ll be looking for revenge should the two reach the final together this evening.
James Wade was also defeated by Smith in the Worlds’ subsequent round.
The ‘James Milner’ of darts, expect consistent seven out of ten performances from The Machine.
He’ll capitalise on any poor performances from his competitors but is unlikely to claim his second Premier League title.
A Price win is likely in this match tonight.
(Featured image – pixabay image https://pixabay.com/photos/robin-hood-dart-steel-tip-dart-5948379/)