Premier League Darts - Sheffield preview
DUTCH legend Raymond van Barneveld and World Championship finalist Peter Wright will double up as the Premier League Darts visits Sheffield's Motorpoint Arena on Thursday.
Following last week's elimination of Simon Whitlock and Wes Newton, the remaining eight stars continue their battle for places in May's Play-Offs with five big clashes in Sheffield.
Wright and van Barneveld will play twice on the night, with the World Championship finalist set to meet Scottish rival Gary Anderson before taking on the Dutchman in a meeting of the players sat second and third in the league table.
Wright, though, believes that van Barneveld has been the season's best player so far, despite drawing his last five matches to leave himself three points behind league leader Michael van Gerwen going into the second phase of the season.
"Raymond's been brilliant," said Wright. "I'd say that he's been the best player in the Premier League so far this year, without a doubt.
"He's so consistent and the only reason he's had those draws is because he's missed a few doubles, otherwise they'd have been all wins.
"In my last game against him, he gave me a chance and I took it with the 161 checkout to get a draw, but if he brushes up his finishing, none of us have got a chance. When he misses, it's not by much and he's the best player at the moment."
Wright has also enjoyed a fine debut season so far in the Premier League, winning five and drawing three of his opening nine matches - but insists he's not going to ease off in the second half of the season.
"If I get any more relaxed I'll go to sleep!" he added. "I'm just looking forward to playing all these fantastic players again, and the ones I beat will be wanting their revenge, but I'll keep my head on.
"I want to get closer to Michael and put the pressure on him in the next few weeks. It was getting a bit tight between the top five players, so to get a win last week gave me a little bit of breathing space."
Van Barneveld came back from 4-1 down to draw with Adrian Lewis last week to continue his run of stalemates, and believes he has to improve to maintain his top-four status.
"It's nice of Peter to say that and I'm working hard but I've been in draw mode," said the Dutch star, who also plays Dave Chisnall in Sheffield.
"From now on I've got to win matches. Last week was a gift from Adrian and I know I need to improve.
"I'm still third but from now on it's open season and every player could reach the semi-finals. I'm always thinking about the top four; I'm not Raymond van Barneveld to entertain the crowd, I'm trying to get into the top four and reach the final. That's what I do, I want to win.
"I've learned a lot of lessons in recent years when I wasn't winning, and I'm enjoying myself."
League leader and reigning champion van Gerwen faces Scottish ace Robert Thornton in Sheffield, and the Dutchman is determined to step up his own game in the second half of the season after drawing with Whitlock a week ago.
"I can do a lot better than I did last week and I need to be sharper," said van Gerwen, the current World Champion and world number one.
"I'm still hitting above a 100 average in nearly every game, and that's what I should do. If I don't do that I'm very disappointed, but the most important thing is to win and that's what I'm looking for against Robert.
"This is the toughest league but I know what it's like to top the table and to win the tournament, but it's even more difficult to do it again. I'm a target in this tournament and every tournament, but I think I'm doing quite well."
The night's other game is an all-Stoke affair as resurgent Phil Taylor, the six-time Premier League Darts champion, plays recent UK Open champion Adrian Lewis.
"It's exciting and we're all looking to kick on and push for the top four now," said Taylor, who had lost 7-3 to Lewis when they met in Bournemouth two months ago.
"My game's still improving and I always believed it would.
"In some of the games earlier in the season I wasn't far off at all, but I was missing doubles. I knew I only had to up it a little and it would start to turn around and it has been in the last few weeks, but I want to keep it going now."
A small number of tickets for Thursday's Premier League Darts at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield are still available by calling 0114 256 5656 or by visiting www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk.
The Premier League Darts will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 2HD from 7pm on Thursday, with all games the best of 12 legs.
Premier League Darts
April 10, Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield
Dave Chisnall v Raymond van Barneveld
Peter Wright v Gary Anderson
Michael van Gerwen v Robert Thornton
Phil Taylor v Adrian Lewis
Raymond van Barneveld v Peter Wright
Tickets: 0114 256 5656 or www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk