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 a record £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…
AFC Bournemouth – Joe Cullen
Cullen is a player who has made huge strides in a short space of time, climbing in to the world’s elite top 16 for the first time earlier this year.
Bournemouth were widely tipped to struggle in the Premier League after being promoted to the top flight in 2015 for the first time in their history but have since consolidated their position.
Cullen has quickly consolidated his top 16 spot and has in fact risen to a career-high 14th; he brings a young, clean-cut image to the sport much like Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe does to management, having begun his managerial career in his early thirties.
Bournemouth find themselves within touching distance of the top six, while Cullen is knocking on the door in darting terms, nestled nicely in an open bottom quarter of the draw. His 80/1 odds with William Hill
could represent strong each-way value.
Arsenal – James Wade
Wade may not be the most watchable player in world darts but knows how to capture the winning formula in a similar manor to how Arsenal lifted the FA Cup in 2014, 2015 and 2017 despite disappointing league campaigns under Arsene Wenger.
Much like The Gunners have been under new boss Unai Emery, Wade has enjoyed a superb return to form in recent months, winning back-to-back televised titles at the European Championship and World Series Finals.
Arsenal are blessed with great firepower in the final third with the strike partnership of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette and finishing is a key trait of Wade – who has made a career out of combination checkouts at crucial times.
Brighton & Hove Albion – Darren Webster
Brighton were promoted to the top flight in 2017 after a 34-year absence and have since consolidated that status, climbing to mid-table as we approach the festive period.
After a lengthy spell in the darting wilderness, Webster is also back in the big time among the world’s top 16 and is playing arguably the most consistent darts of his career at the age of 50.
Both Brighton and Webster can often be underestimated but have a habit of bringing the big guns down a peg or two, with Albion beating Manchester United earlier this season and ‘The Demolition Man’ beating World Champion Rob Cross in the World Matchplay.
Burnley – Steve Beaton
Burnley’s old school approach under no-nonsense manager Sean Dyche has reaped the rewards in recent years and darts players don’t come more old school than Steve ‘The Bronzed Adonis’ Beaton.
At 54, Beaton is the second oldest player in this year’s World Championship and shows no sign of surrendering his position inside the world’s top 25 anytime soon just as Burnley seem to have cemented their Premier League status.
Neither Burnley nor Beaton have fared well in European competition this season, with Dyche’s side crashing out in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League, while Beaton lost in the First Round of the European Championship and did not progress beyond the Last 16 of a European Tour event.
Cardiff City – Gerwyn Price
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock is a man who divides opinion, and the same can be said for one of darts’ most passionate characters – Gerwyn Price.
Displaying the same Welsh grit as Cardiff have shown since returning to the top flight, Price has hit form at the ideal time, picking up his first major title at the Grand Slam last month.
Like The Bluebirds, who were relegated from the Premier League in 2014, Price has also bounced back to his best after finishing bottom of the Premier League in his debut campaign earlier this year.
Love him or loathe him, ‘The Ice Man’ could have a big say in this tournament and has been tipped by many pundits as the value each-way pick in the bottom half of the draw at 33/1 with William Hill
Chelsea – Daryl Gurney
Both Chelsea and Gurney have defeated the dominant forces in their respective fields of late, with The Blues having beaten Manchester City 2-0 and Gurney having overcome Michael van Gerwen in the Players Championship Final.
Chelsea are not short of goals in the same way as Gurney is not short of 180s, having hit the most maximums in this year’s Premier League in his debut season.
Both are multiple winners of major silverware and know how to entertain a crowd, with Eden Hazard Chelsea’s biggest box office attraction and Gurney able to get the crowd on his side by conducting a mass sing-along of ‘Sweet Caroline’ during his walk-on.
Crystal Palace – Dave Chisnall
When their key components are in full flow, Palace are capable of mixing it with the big boys on their day and the same can be said for ‘Chizzy’, though both have been plagued by injury problems of late.
Wilfried Zaha’s blistering pace can put fans on the edge of their seats, while Chisnall’s clutch scoring power can pave the way for some huge averages.
Both have not set the world alight this year but have crucially managed to maintain their position, with Chisnall still firmly ranked among the top 16 and Palace still hovering above the drop.
Everton – Peter Wright
Everton have undergone a number of managerial changes of late and one darts player not averse to a change is Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright.
Wright is renowned for constantly changing his darting setup, from barrels to stems and flights, the flamboyant Scot is the sport’s most notorious tinker man.
For the quality they possess, both Everton and Wright are not quite living up to their full potential at the current time but the bookies still feel Wright is in with a chance as the 10/1 third favourite with William Hill
Fulham – Ian White
Fulham were promoted to the Premier League this year via the play-offs but have struggled to cope with the step up in standard and find themselves rooted to the foot of the table.
The Cottagers are managed by one of football’s great characters, Claudio Ranieri, and White holds down a reputation as one of darts’ most happy-go-luck characters, though he is equally fierce when it comes to the serious business on the dartboard.
White is one of the most consistent performers on the floor circuit, having topped this year’s Players Championship Order of Merit, but has often struggled to transfer that form onto the televised stage.
It is surely only a matter of time before he strings together a strong run in a TV major but his inconsistent form is reflected in his odds of 100/1 with title sponsors William Hill
Huddersfield Town – Max Hopp
Huddersfield defied the odds last season to remain in the Premier League after their shock promotion, and German youngster Hopp has defied the odds of numerous occasions this year, winning two ranking titles including the German Open.
Under manager David Wagner, Huddersfield have attracted a considerable new fanbase in Germany, and it’s the German contingent who could play a key part in Hopp’s progress at Ally Pally this year.
Around 15 per cent of all tickets sold for the tournament have gone to travelling German fans, whose best hope lies on the shoulders of 22-year-old Hopp – who has beaten the likes of Mervyn King and Vincent van der Voort on this stage in recent years.
Leicester City – Rob Cross
Cross sent shock-waves through the world of darts thanks to his fairy-tale debut triumph at Ally Pally on New Year’s Day after less than 12 months as a professional.
Cross’ remarkable triumph was reminiscent of that of Leicester City – who won the Premier League as 5,000/1 outsiders in 2016.
Understandably, both have failed to live up to those incredible heights since, with The Foxes finishing 12th in 2016/17 and ninth in 2017/18 and Cross entering this year’s tournament as a 22/1 outsider with William Hill
having suffered a string of early exits in majors this year.
Liverpool – Gary Anderson
Anderson is a player who has been there and done it on the sport’s biggest stage, though perhaps not as long ago as Liverpool won the Premier League.
Back-to-back World Champion in 2015 and 2016, Anderson has raised his game superbly in 2018, claiming four televised titles including the UK Open and the World Matchplay.
Liverpool are synonymous with the Champions League, having won it five times, while Anderson got his hands on darts’ Champions League title for the first time back in September.
He is undoubtedly MVG’s closest challenger for glory as Liverpool are to Manchester City’s Premier League title, and the two tungsten titans are on a collision course to meet in the Semi-Finals.
Manchester City – Michael van Gerwen
Once languishing in the lower echelons, both City and Van Gerwen have gone on to become the dominant forces in their respective fields.
Van Gerwen’s rise to the top of world darts has unfolded in a similar manor to City’s emergence, having won his first major title (World Grand Prix) in 2012 – the year City won the Premier League for the first time.
Like City, Mighty Mike has the ability to blow his opponents away when in full flow, but is set to face a stern examination from a number of in-form rivals.
City are odds-on favourites to retain their Premier League crown, while Van Gerwen is a short-priced 11/8 favourite with William Hill
to be king of the palace for the third time.
Manchester United – Raymond van Barneveld
Both United and Van Barneveld have attracted a huge global following thanks to decades of success at the highest level.
However, their best days appear to be behind them as new forces emerge from the pack and the fear factor which once surrounded them looks to exist no longer.
Jose Mourinho is perhaps football’s most enigmatic character, while RVB is somewhat of a darting enigma – when he’s on song, he’s a joy to watch, when he isn’t, he can make the game look terribly difficult.
Both are clinging on to the hope that they can restore their former glories, and with Barney set to retire following next year’s Worlds, he will be desperate to mount a strong challenge for a sixth world crown.
Newcastle United – Adrian Lewis
Lewis is another player chasing former glories on the sport’s biggest stage, having won back-to-back world titles in 2011 and 2012.
While Newcastle haven’t enjoyed similar success in recent times, like Lewis, they are often burdened by a heavy weight of expectation from their considerable fanbase.
Newcastle are blessed with a respected manager in Rafa Benitez and Lewis remains under the watchful eye of 1983 World Champion Keith Deller.
The Magpies are sponsored by a China-based gaming firm, but don’t mention that to Lewis – whose nickname ‘Jackpot’ derived from an infamous $72,000 casino win in Las Vegas in 2005 – when he was unable to collect the winnings as he was just 20 years old.
Southampton – Jonny Clayton
Clayton heads into the World Championship on a high after breaking into the world’s top 16 for the first time in a year which has seen him win the Austrian Open and reach two major Quarter-Finals.
The tenacious Welshman has enjoyed a new lease of life in his career and Southampton are hoping they can breathe new life into their season under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.
The Saints have struggled for goals this season, scoring just 13 (the joint second fewest in the PL) and Clayton is not renowned as a heavy scorer himself but is more than capable of causing the big names problems, just as Southampton showed in a recent 2-2 draw with Manchester United.
Tottenham Hotspur – Mensur Suljovic
Spurs may be be moving to a new stadium, but their squad has remained largely unchanged since last season, and it’s the unchanged throw which has served Suljovic so well on the oche in recent times.
Like Mauricio Pochettino’s men, Suljovic is solid in all departments, and unlike the construction firm responsible for completing Spurs’ new stadium, the Austrian can actually finish quickly and efficiently.
Rather like the resolute Spurs defence, Suljovic has proved notoriously difficult to break down and has shown he has what it takes to challenge for major silverware; he is a regular fixture at the business end of competitions and is likely to be in the mix at Ally Pally but may just fall short.
Watford – Simon Whitlock
Aussie ace Whitlock is constantly striving to find an extra level in his game and like Watford, is not afraid to mix and match his setup.
Watford have hired three different managers since May 2017, with their latest head coach Javi Garcia often chopping and changing his starting XI in a bid to find the perfect balance, while Whitlock has built his own darts workshop and has his own patented points and grip wax.
With the likes of Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra, The Hornets are not short of creative flair, and the same can be said for ‘The Wizard’ – who is prone to unorthodox checkouts and loves leaving 170.
West Ham United – Stephen Bunting
Bunting may not have won the World Cup (like West Ham claim) but he has won a BDO world title, and like The Hammers, is coming back into form after a period of uncertainty.
The Bullet is heading back in the right direction, having climbed back up to 18th in the Order of Merit, notably reaching the Quarter-Finals of the Players Championship Finals last month.
After a shaky start to the season, West Ham have reeled off three consecutive wins to climb into mid-table, and like Bunting, look to have look to have put their dark days behind them.
Wolverhampton Wanderers – Michael Smith
Both Wolves and Smith have taken the Premier League by storm this season, with Nuno Espírito Santo’s side sitting comfortably in mid-table and Smith having reached the final of Premier League Darts in only his second appearance.
Both have risen rapidly up the ranks, with Wolves having languished in League One as recently as 2014, while Smith is now firmly established among the world’s top ten.
Wolves have no fear of facing the heavyweights, as they showed in a recent midweek win over Chelsea, and Smith is no different, defeating Michael van Gerwen and Rob Cross en route to picking up his first TV title at the Shanghai Masters.
Granted, Wolves may not be title contenders just yet, but Smith very much is, in darting terms he has the pace of Adama Traore and is capable of leaving opponents in his wake, just as he famously did with Phil Taylor at Ally Pally in 2013.