Carabao Cup Semi-Final Preview
Darts are back on Sky Sports this week with the Grand Slam of Darts coming live from Wolverhampton’s Aldersley Leisure Village. This £450,000 competition has an unusual set-up as players are divided into eight groups of four who play each other in a round-robin format. The top two in each group then proceed into a pre-arranged draw for the second round and the tournament then becomes a conventional knockout competition.
Each group has a single seeded player in it: MVG (Michael van Gerwen), Michael Smith, James Wade, Gary Anderson, Peter Wright, Rob Cross, Simon Whitlock and Mensur Suljovic. A second player joins each group courtesy of winning PDC automatic qualification and a player representing the British Darts Organisation (BDO) is also thrown in to each group. In short the tournament will feature 24 PDC players and 8 from the BDO.
Michael van Gerwen has won the last three editions of this competition. If he is to make it four, beyond the round-robin stages, the Dutchman has to win an additional four matches and such is the complexity of the draw, there is no saying who he will face in the ‘best of 19 leg’ second round or ‘best of 31 leg’ quarters, semis or final.
However, if things go according to script his second round opponent should be either Michael Smith or Raymond van Barneveld while Gary Anderson or an in-form James Wade could stand in his way in the semi-finals. But this is darts, meaning few things go to plan and this semi-final stage will not be reached until the ninth and final day of play.
MVG is BetVictor’s short-priced ante-post favourite by default and it always takes a brave person to oppose him. Given he was a second-round elimination in the European Championship less than a fortnight ago (beaten 10-7 by World No. 23, 43-year-old, Steve West) you could argue that is simple. Not so, this was the Dutchman’s first defeat in 22 games and in the first round he averaged 110 – to quantify that, no player in the other 30 matches surpassed 103.6!
Instead of speculating ‘will he or won’t he’ taking two players in the bottom half of the draw and hoping MVG makes an untimely exit looks the most prudent strategy. The big names which are likely to go into the bottom bracket of the draw from the round-robin groups are Wright, Whitlock, Cross and Suljovic. But Gerwyn Price, Stephen Bunting and Max Hopp are no back numbers and they should join them.
Twelve months ago Peter Wright made it to the final of this competition and his path to the decider appeared a lot more hazardous than it is this year. A 16-15 semi-final victory over Gary Anderson was particularly noteworthy. A serial finalist, ‘Snakebite’ looks a great each-way play at 9/1 to repeat last year’s run to the final (at the very least).
At much bigger odds there is Max Hopp. The 2015 PDC World Youth Championship winner nearly landed us a 125/1 each-way touch when missing three match darts to make the final of last month’s European Championship. His conqueror, James Wade went on to land the competition.
The grounds for backing the German were ‘course and distance form’ and another ‘bottom bracket’ draw. Arriving here on the back of a career best effort, Hopp could repeat the dose while a potential second-round clash with either Simon Whitlock or Gerwyn Price will not be overly daunting.
Peter Wright 9/1 (each-way)
Max Hopp 125/1 (each-way)