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World Darts Championship 2019/20 Day One preview and order of play: MVG commences title defence on opening night

If darts players were Premier League teams: Who to support at the 2019/20 World Darts Championship

Jamie Shaw in World Darts Championship 11 Dec 2019
Is MVG the Manchester City of darts?

The Premier League may be heading into its festive frenzy of fixtures, but all eyes will be on Ally Pally as the World Darts Championship kicks off this week.

A total of 96 players from 28 countries will compete for £2.5 million in prize money over 16 days of action at the greatest show on planet darts.

For those tuning in for an annual dose of tungsten and unsure who to cheer on, we’ve coupled each Premier League team with a participant in this year’s Worlds…

Arsenal – Adrian Lewis

Lewis was one of darts’ dominant forces in the early part of the decade, with his formidable natural talent guiding him to back-to-back world titles at Ally Pally.

Just like The Gunners during their glory years under Arsene Wenger, Lewis’ key to success was consistency, the lack of which in recent years has halted his progress.

Lewis also split with his long-term manager and is now taking a new direction in an effort to recapture the winning formula.

Like Arsenal, Lewis has gradually fallen away from his rivals but on his day undoubtedly possesses the talent capable of challenging for silverware once again.

Aston Villa – Dave Chisnall

Villa were promoted back to the top flight last season and Chisnall is also back in the big time after a short spell on the periphery.

Villa benefited from a plethora of new signings this summer, while Chizzy also made a major move by joining Harrows, acquiring a new set of darts which have led him to the World Grand Prix final as well as a nine-dart finish on the European Tour.

Dean Smith’s Villa may not be talked about as regular trophy contenders, but do have considerable firepower in their ranks and are the highest scoring side in the bottom half of the table.

Chisnall is also well-known for his scoring credentials, affirming himself as arguably the most prolific 180 hitter in world darts.

Bournemouth – Nathan Aspinall

Eddie Howe has broken the trend as a forward-thinking young manager in the Premier League, cementing what was initially team of underdogs into an established top flight outfit.

Aspinall too could be about to make his mark on the Premier League in 2020, having enjoyed a remarkable breakthrough season which has seen him lift two televised titles.

The Asp kicked on from his run to the Semi-Finals at Ally Pally 12 months ago by landing his first major as a 125/1 outsider at the UK Open in March before marking his World Series debut with glory at the U.S Masters in Las Vegas four months later.

Like Bournemouth, Aspinall’s rise has been rapid, and without any money to defend against his ranking at Ally Pally this month, the Stockport star is here to stay.

Brighton & Hove Albion – Joe Cullen

Brighton enjoyed a fine run to the Semi-Finals of last season’s FA Cup, and Cullen had been serial semi-finalist on the European Tour before eventually going the distance in this year’s European Matchplay.

The Seagulls started the season brightly but have struggled to remain consistent since, while consistency on the big stage has also been Cullen’s Achilles’ heel in recent years.

Crystal Palace are Brighton’s biggest rivals, but unlike Albion, the palace has not been a happy hunting ground for Cullen – who has won just one match at Alexandra Palace in nine visits.

Burnley – Mensur Suljovic

Burnley may not be the prettiest to watch at times, but their route one style of play has been a proven method of obtaining results in recent seasons.

Similar can be said for Suljovic, who has been known to grind opponents down with his methodical style of play and dictate the pace of matches.

The Austrian can resort to old school tactics but has the undoubted ability to upset the big boys and has featured in the Premier League himself for the past two seasons.

Like Sean Dyche, Suljovic sticks to his tried and trusted methods, in this case, doing everything in his power to leave himself on double 14.

Chelsea – Rob Cross

Cross is a proven winner of major silverware, having backed up his fairy-tale world title triumph in 2018 with further success at the World Matchplay and European Championship this season.

Frank Lampard boasts one of the youngest squads in the Premier League, and at 29, Cross also has youth on his side in darting terms as the youngest member of the world’s top ten.

Despite being world number two and a multiple major winner, ‘Voltage’ has not overly been talked about as one of the front-runners for the title this year, but, like The Blues, has enjoyed a welcome return to form in recent months and could have a big part to play.

Crystal Palace – Jermaine Wattimena

With just 14 goals to their name so far this season, Palace are the second lowest scorers in the top flight behind only rock bottom Watford.

Jermaine Wattimena is a player not renowned for his consistent scoring power, but a key trait of the Dutchman’s is his rhythmic throwing action and pace – something which Palace possess in abundance from the likes of Wilfried Zaha.

Sitting comfortably in mid-table, Palace have perhaps exceeded expectations so far this season, and the same can be said for Wattimena – who is closing in on a place in the world’s top 16 for the first time and recently reached his first major Quarter-Final.

Everton – James Wade

A multiple winner of major silverware, Wade has been a stalwart of the modern game for over a decade and looked to be back to his best last year, but has fallen far short of expectations this term.

Everton, a team with similar tradition in the game, are also struggling unexpectedly this season, just two points off the relegation zone heading into the festive period.

Both The Machine and The Toffees have traditionally proved difficult to get a result against and are strong when it comes to converting chances.

Leicester City – Gary Anderson

Both Leicester and Anderson know exactly what it takes to win the big one, with The Foxes having claimed a historic first Premier League title in 2016 – the same year The Flying Scotsman retained the world title.

Leicester once again started out as considerable outsiders to challenge for the title before a ball was kicked, and at 25/1, Anderson is also at his longest starting price for some time.

Both Anderson and Leicester have been affected by injury this year, but when fully fit are more than capable of putting it up to the top two.

Jamie Vardy has been scoring for fun this season, a trait which Anderson is renowned for when on top form, having hit the most 180s ever in a World Championship (71) in 2017.

Liverpool – Gerwyn Price

Price has emerged as Michael van Gerwen’s closest challenger in recent months and starts out at his shortest ever odds to win the title for the first time.

Liverpool are also in their best ever position to win a first Premier League title having stormed clear at the top of the table, but will not be taking anything for granted just yet.

Liverpool beat title rivals Manchester City 3-1 in November – the same month Price gained his first televised victory over MVG, and the pair could be on a collision course for a meeting in the final on New Year’s Day.

The punters have been piling on Price to go the distance, just as they have on Liverpool to sew up the title, but Reds and Price fans will be all too familiar of slip-ups at the Palace.

Manchester City – Michael van Gerwen

Van Gerwen heads to Ally Pally once again as the heavy pre-tournament favourite to assert his dominance on the biggest stage of all.

The richest player on planet darts, Mighty Mike has picked up trophies left, right and centre in recent years in the same vein as City on the domestic front.

Like City, Van Gerwen has the ability to blow opponents away when on top form but can also be susceptible when slightly off the top of his game.

The world number one has developed a new rivalry with Gerwyn Price, who appears to be his biggest threat heading into the tournament, but knows the has the overall upper-hand and it will require a special performance to deny him.

Manchester United – Raymond van Barneveld

Van Barneveld is gearing up for his final farewell on the world stage and is aiming to restore his former glories one last time.

Just as Manchester United, Barney has become a global brand over the years based on his legacy in the sport, but has fallen adrift from his rivals where it matters most.

Both RVB and United were at the peak of their powers in the mid noughties but still harbour hopes of rolling back the years and adding to their trophy cabinet.

Both have a huge fanbase and are a glamour draw for any opponent, but now enter their respective competitions in hope rather than expectation.

Newcastle United – Chris Dobey

Newcastle are a club powered by passionate local pride, something which Geordie ace Dobey has in abundance.

The Magpies were Premier League contenders in 1995/96, and Dobey was a Premier League ‘contender’ himself in 2019, receiving a hero’s welcome on home soil before holding Mensur Suljovic to a draw.

The Bedlington ace has shown he has the potential to challenge for silverware, reaching two major Semi-Finals this season, but like his hometown club, is yet to taste success in the modern era.

Newcastle are renowned for being involved in a number of classic matches down the years (think Liverpool and Arsenal at St James’ Park) and Dobey was himself at the centre of an epic at Ally Pally in 2018, losing in a deciding set to his stablemate Gary Anderson in the Last 16.

Norwich City – Mervyn King

Norwich are the closest Premier League club to Bradwell-based King, and their seasons so far have bared various similarities.

Both pulled off a stunning giant-killing early on in their respective campaigns, with King knocking Michael van Gerwen out of the UK Open and Norwich defeating Manchester City 3-2 at Carrow Road.

Since then, both have been beset by injury problems, with Norwich sinking into the bottom three and King suffering from the effects of a long-term spinal injury.

The odds are now stacked against Norwich for survival and King to lift the world title, but both have shown they have what it takes to defy the odds and compete with the big boys on their day.

Sheffield United – Krzysztof Ratajski

2019 has proved a landmark year for Sheffield United – who secured their return to the top flight after a 12-year absence.

The same can said for Ratajski, who has also broken into the elite bracket as a multiple title winner and is now knocking on the door of the top 16.

The Blades may not play the most attractive football in the division, but Chris Wilder has his side well-organised and hard-working across the board, just as Ratajski is efficient in all aspects of his game.

No side is relishing a clash with Sheffield United on current form, and Ratajski has also become a draw to avoid in every event he plays. He may not be ready to challenge for the big one just yet, but could certainly put the cat among the pigeons.

Southampton – Simon Whitlock

Like Southampton, Whitlock – who is based on the South Coast – has struggled to get his season going and is hoping to come good at the business end.

The Saints are battling to beat the drop, and Whitlock is also looking to stave off a drop of his own – down the PDC Order of Merit.

The Australian could slip out of the world’s top 16 in the coming months if he continues to suffer early exits, having not made a ranking Quarter-Final of any sort since June.

Southampton made the FA Cup final in 2003, the year Whitlock first competed in a PDC World Championship, and both have been on the receiving end of crushing defeats this year, with The Saints hammered 9-0 by Leicester and ‘The Wizard’ thrashed 11-2 by Peter Wright at the Matchplay.

Tottenham Hotspur – Michael Smith

Michael Smith may not have reached the Champions League final as yet, but he has established himself as a key contender in numerous major competitions of late.

Like Spurs, however, Smith has been on the losing side more often than not in major finals and is yet to capture that elusive big one.

Spurs and Smith are both brimming with natural talent, with the scoring power of Harry Kane resembling that of Smith on the treble twenty.

Should Smith continue in the same vein, it is surely only a matter of time before he lifts major silverware, the same can be said for Spurs under serial winner Jose Mourinho.

Watford – Peter Wright

The Hornets and Snakebite have one glaringly obvious factor in common: change.

Watford have seen four different managers come and go since the beginning of 2018, while Wright simply cannot stop tinkering with his darting setup.

It is now unthinkable for Wright to stick with the same setup for more than one tournament, let alone a season, just as it has become for Watford to keep the same manager in charge for more than a few months.

Both have enjoyed their best memories of late in the FA Cup, with Watford finishing runners-up in 2018/19, while Wright’s finest hour came at the 2017 UK Open – the FA Cup of Darts – when he claimed his first, and to date only, major title.

West Ham United – Daryl Gurney

Unlike West Ham, Gurney has never won the (PDC) World Cup, but already has multiple major honours to his name and the power to add in years to come.

The Hammers remain a big club with big ambition, and Gurney harbours genuine ambition of becoming World Champion in the near future.

West Ham are synonymous for their anthem ‘Forever Blowing Bubbles’, while Gurney has made his ‘Sweet Caroline’ walk-on a crowd-pleaser in arenas around the world.

Form-wise, West Ham have stuttered in recent months, as has Gurney – bowing out of the Grand Slam in the Last 16, plus a shock First Round exit at the Players Championship Finals as defending champion, but has the all-round ability capable of seeing him challenge the dominant forces.

Wolverhampton Wanderers – Ian White

Both Wolves and White have produced their best form in Europe this season, with Wanderers advancing from the Group Stages of the Europa League and White storming to two European Tour titles in the space of a fortnight.

Neither are widely spoken about as dark horses for the Premier League, despite Wolves now pushing for a top six spot and world number nine White still yet to feature in a Premier League campaign or a World Series event.

Consistency has been the key for ‘Diamond’ over the years, particularly on the ProTour, like Wolves – who are enjoying their best ever spell in the Premier League – White also broke new ground of late by reaching his first major televised Semi-Final after almost a decade as a PDC player.

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