Preview: Premier League

Sports Mole previews the 2014 Premier League campaign, which begins in Liverpool on Thursday evening.

The 10th edition of the PDC's Premier League begins at Liverpool's Echo Arena on Thursday as Michael van Gerwen attempts to defend the trophy that he won with victory over Phil Taylor nine months ago.

The recently-crowned world champion finished 132 for a dramatic 10-8 win over the six-time winner, but Taylor, alongside eight other players, will be eager to snatch the trophy away from the new world number one.

Below, Sports Mole takes a look at this year's lineup.

Main contenders

Michael van Gerwen's form over the past two months means that his tag as pre-tournament favourite is justified, but the 24-year-old will not have it all his own way during a campaign that always throws up plenty of surprise results.

The four-time major winner has emerged victorious in the Players Championship Finals and the World Championship, but his dominance during those two tournaments would have only increased the motivation of Stoke-on-Trent duo Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis, who have both seen their form slip since their epic confrontation at the Grand Slam of Darts.

Michael van Gerwen of the Netherlands in action during his quarter-final match Clinton Bridge of Australia against during day two of the Sydney Darts Masters on August 30, 2013© Getty Images

Taylor is still smarting from his shock defeat to Michael Smith at Alexandra Palace, but the setback and a new multi-million-pound promotional deal with Target Darts would only have whetted his appetite for a year where he needs to respond to the challenge that is being posed at the top of the PDC Order of Merit by Van Gerwen and Lewis.

Despite being world champion, the match between Van Gerwen and Taylor could be considered more important to the youngster, because if the Staffordshire thrower can return from the off-season with a bang, that could set Taylor on the road to a dominant 2014.

Before his whitewash defeat to Van Gerwen in December, Lewis was beginning to show the maturity and consistency that he had promised a few years ago, and if he can start well over the next few weeks, he can gatecrash the party between the top two in the sport.

Plenty of experience

Despite his fall in the world rankings, Raymond van Barneveld returns for his ninth attempt to make the final of this competition, while Simon Whitlock and Gary Anderson will be hoping for improved showings after disappointing efforts last year.

Van Barneveld has sometimes flattered to deceive in the Premier League, but more often that not, he has found a way to make it through to the last four before succumbing in the semi-finals.

The five-time world champion's fanbase justifies his inclusion in the competition, but Van Barneveld will be craving a series of displays that shows his rivals that he can become a force to be reckoned with during this calendar year as he continues to look for his first major ranking title since 2007.

Whitlock and Anderson both failed to make the playoffs last year, with Anderson having the embarrassment of finishing in last place in the 10-man table after earning just two victories in nine matches.

Whitlock only narrowly avoided relegation at the end of the first phase after losing six of his first nine matches, and the Australian will need a faster start this year if he is to break into the top four before the playoffs.

Debutants

This year's campaign sees Dave Chisnall and Peter Wright make their Premier League debut after both enjoyed memorable achievements during 2013.

Chisnall made his first PDC major final at the World Grand Prix, and although he suffered a demoralising defeat to Phil Taylor in a match that saw him win just two legs, the former Lakeside runner-up's power-scoring could potentially see him make a positive impact over the coming months.

Peter Wright of Scotland celebrates defeating Simon Whitlock of Australia in their semi final match on day fifteen of the Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship on December 30, 2013© Getty Images

Wright entered the PDC World Championship with, at best, an outside chance of gatecrashing the Premier League lineup, but the draw in North London had seeded him to face Taylor in the last 16.

After the sixteen-time world champion bowed out at the second-round stage, Wright took full advantage to progress through to the final with wins over the likes of Wes Newton and Whitlock, and although he came up short in the final against Van Gerwen, the flamboyant Scot will be eager to prove that his performances over Christmas were merely a sign of things to come.

Outsiders

Robert Thornton and Wes Newton, who both made their debuts in 2013, are the final two men in this year's competition.

Thornton, who reached the final of last year's Grand Slam of Darts, narrowly missed out on a place in the playoffs last year, and his form throughout the last 12 months would suggest that he can cause a few surprises over the next 16 weeks.

As for Newton, he has failed to make it to the semi-finals of a PDC major since October 2012, but the North-West thrower ended last year with successive last-eight appearances to earn him a second crack at the Premier League trophy.

James Wade of England looks dejected during his semi final match against Michael van Gerwen of the Netherlands on day fourteen of the 2013 Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace on December 30, 2012
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