Smith and Anderson put their friendship to one side (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)
The fourth staging of the Champions League of Darts commences in Leicester on Saturday with the opening two sets of group fixtures played across two sessions.
The elite two-day invitational features eight of the PDC’s biggest names battling it out for the £100,000 top prize at the Morningside Arena in Leicester.
The eight players are split into two groups, facing each other once, before the top two from each progress to the Semi-Finals.
Reigning champion Gary Anderson is housed in Group A and begins the defence of his title against his stablemate and former protege Michael Smith in the afternoon session.
Smith has had Anderson’s number over the past 18 months, winning four of their last five meetings, though this will be their first competitive fixture in 2019.
Anderson has reached the knock-out stages in all three previous Champions League appearances but heads to Leicester in an uncertain spell of form, having lost in the Last 16 of both the World Matchplay and World Grand Prix.
Smith, meanwhile, is making his first appearance in this event since 2016 – when he was beaten 10-5 by Anderson – but has reached three televised finals this season including the World Championship and World Matchplay.
The Champions League of Darts is one of the only televised titles to have eluded Michael van Gerwen to date, and the world number one starts his latest quest for this silverware with a clash against James Wade in Group A.
Van Gerwen, runner-up in 2016, successfully retained his World Grand Prix title in Dublin last Sunday and will be determined to pick up from where he left off.
The lengthy match play format will suit the current World Champion as he looks to press home his clinical all-round game and maintain his dominant record over ‘The Machine’.
Wade came away with a win and a draw from their Premier League encounters earlier this year, prior to which he had won just one of their last 17 meetings.
The reigning European Champion is making his first Champions League appearance since 2016 – when he reached the Semi-Finals before losing to eventual winner Phil Taylor.
The opening Group B fixture sees Daryl Gurney and Peter Wright face off for the fifth time in televised competition this year.
Gurney is due to have his hair shaved off in aid of Cystic Fibrosis Care later in the day but will be aiming to avoid a close shave against the in-form Scotsman on the oche.
Players Champion Gurney came through their epic World Matchplay Quarter-Final 16-13 back in July and will look to make a bright start here in a bid to progress from the group stage for the first time.
Wright warmed up for this event in style by winning Tuesday’s Players Championship event in Barnsley for his third ranking title of the season.
Runner-up in this event last year, ‘Snakebite’ will fancy his chances of going one better but knows he must raise his game from last week’s Second Round disappointment at the World Grand Prix if he is to do so.
The other tie in Group B sees World Matchplay champion Rob Cross open up against Grand Slam champion Gerwyn Price.
The pair cannot be separated in terms of their head-to-head stats, with five wins apiece and a draw in this season’s Premier League, though Price has won their last three meetings.
Price, who is making his debut in this event, finished top of the Players Championship Order of Merit having picked up three ProTour titles this year as well as the International Open.
Cross has reached at least the Quarter-Final stage in eight of his ten televised singles tournaments this year, supplementing his Matchplay crown with runner-up spots in the UK Open and Premier League.
The world number two finished third in his group on debut last year and will be determined to mount a serious title challenge at the second time of asking.
The action gets underway from 1.15pm BST, with all group matches to be contested over the best of 19 legs.
Champions League of Darts 2019 Match Schedule
Saturday October 19
1.15pm Daryl Gurney v Peter Wright (Group B)
2.15pm Rob Cross v Gerwyn Price (Group B)
3.15pm Michael Smith v Gary Anderson (Group A)
4.15pm Michael van Gerwen v James Wade (Group A)
Evening Session (6.30pm-10.30pm)
Afternoon session’s winning players face each other and losing players face each other