After 14 weeks of tungsten-tossing excitement, the 2018 Unibet Premier League of Darts has reached the O2 in London for the final stage of the season - the Playoffs! This Thursday night, one of Rob Cross, Gary Anderson, Michael Smith or Michael van Gerwen will be crowned our 2018 Premier League champion!
Here’s our preview and betting tips for the 2018 Premier League Playoffs!
The first semi-final will see the number one seed, number one in the world, and three-time Premier League champion, Michael van Gerwen, take on the number four seed, and reigning World Champion in Rob Cross. It’s a tantalising match-up but one that MVG will be entering with plenty of confidence. He has controlled the league this season, and although four losses is probably more than he would’ve liked, he has been comfortably on top of the leaderboard all year. I also suspect he was quite happy to drop his match against Gary Anderson last week to setup this match up. MVG is averaging a staggering 103.56 this season and his checkout percentage of 45.37% is also a league best. He’s the irresistible force, and it’s hard to look past him here.
Rob Cross will be satisfied to reach the Playoffs in his first Premier League season, however I don’t think we’ve really seen his best all season. He started off slowly with two poor losses, but then got on a roll with five straight wins. However his last five weeks have produced zero wins – just three draws and two losses. It’s not great form. It’s also emerged during the week that Cross has been suffering from chest pain due to damage cartilage in his sternum, causing him to withdraw from a PDC European Tour event during the week to rest up for the Premier League Playoffs. What sort of affect the injury will have is yet to be seen, but it might explain his lack of recent form.
MVG is an overwhelming favourite here and the longer best-of-19 format should also advantage him, but it’s hard to get excited about $1.14 odds. I think the play here is to back MVG at the line and have confidence that he’ll just be too good for Cross. You may also like to take the unders on Cross’ average of 98.5. He has averaged 97.33 this season, and although his average will generally be boosted when playing such a strong opponent, that will be negated by the longer format of this match.
The second semi-final will see the number two seed, Michael Smith, take on the number three seed, two-time World Champion and former Premier League winner, Gary Anderson.
What a season it’s been for Michael Smith. While I’ve always been a fan, I certainly didn’t pick him to reach this stage of the season, and it’s great to see him carry his European Tour form across to the big stage of the Premier League. Smith’s season started in a blaze of glory with four straight wins, and seven wins in the first nine weeks prior to Judgement Night. Since then, his next seven games have brought just two wins and two draws but that was comfortably enough to hold onto second spot. Smith’s season average of 95.21 is easily the lowest of the top four, but he has taken his chances at the right moments.
By contrast, Gary Anderson started the season very slowly, with only one win in his first six games, but he then won six of his next seven to get back in contention. A poor loss in the second-last week to Simon Whitlock left Anderson on the brink but he responded with a clutch win over MVG in the final week to climb into third place and avoid a clash with the world number one in the semis.
Anderson will be much happier taking on his protégé in Smith and is a very short-priced favourite. Again the longer format will suit the better player, and that’s Anderson. This is a very big stage for Smith, so he might find the pressure too much, which is why I like Anderson with the -2.5 game handicap. Also happy to nibble Smith under the 96.5 average.
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