Players Championship preview: Back Jonny Clayton over Gerwyn Price in Ally Pally warm-up

Planet Sport takes a look at the top contenders ahead of this weekend’s Players Championship Finals – the last stop before the 2021 World Championships.

We're just three weeks away from the biggest show in darts but before we get there, 64 of the world's best players will go head to head at the Players Championship Finals in Minehead.

A grand total of £100,000 will await the winner as players look to make final preparations ahead of the upcoming World Championships at London's Alexandra Palace.

As things stand, Gerwyn Price looks head and shoulders above the rest and it's no surprise to see him priced as favourite to win his first ever Players Championship title.

However, defending champion Michael van Gerwen has won this tournament six of the last eight years and will not surrender his crown without a fight.

Here's a look at the main contenders

Gerwyn Price to embrace favourite tag

Gerwyn Price poses with trophy after winning his match in the final against Peter Wright at the Aldersley Leisure Village, Wolverhampton.

Current world champion Gerwyn Price might not be a fan favourite but he couldn't care less. The Iceman cruised to his third Grand Slam of Darts title last weekend, beating Peter Wright 16-8 in the final at Wolverhampton.

The 36-year-old averaged over 103 in the showpiece and never looked in trouble against Snakebite.

In fact, Price looked comfortable throughout the tournament as he picked up wins over James Wade, Jonny Clayton, Bradley Brooks, Nathan Rafferty and even enjoyed a 5-0 whitewash of Krzysztof Ratajski.

Since joining the PDC in 2014, the Welshman has won six premier events but is yet to conquer the Players Championship. The closest he came was in 2019 when he reached the final only to lose 11-9 to Van Gerwen.

Considering his dominant display at the Grand Slam, Price will be a popular selection among punters - especially at around the 7/2 mark.

Michael van Gerwen always a danger

Michael Van Gerwen celebrates during his game against Jonny Clayton during the 2021 Unibet Premier League Play-Offs at the Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes.

MVG may have won every major PDC tournament but it's fair to say that the Players Championship is his favourite.

The Dutchman has won this event six times - more than any other competition - and he will be desperate to keep hold of his crown for a third successive year.

But there is another, arguably more important, reason to win this weekend. The 32-year-old will want to send a message to the rest of the pack ahead of the 2021 World Championships.

Van Gerwen hasn't won a world title since 2019 and he would love nothing more than to cap off a disappointing year by claiming the richest prize in darts.

A win at the Players Championship would certainly give the three-time world champ some much needed confidence going into December.

However, progressing into the latter stages of the event already looks a difficult task. Van Gerwen takes on Kevin Doets in the opening round before potentially facing either Raymond van Barneveld or Maik Kuivenhoven.

Should he progress, he could be on a collision course with the likes of Dirk van Duijvenbode, Gary Anderson or even Stephen Bunting. Later, he could face his old sparring partner Peter Wright in the quarter-final.

With a difficult draw ahead, the bookmakers have priced MVG as second-favourite. But as we know from experience, you can never count out the Green Machine.

Jonny Clayton is the one to back

Jonny Clayton celebrates after winning the Unibet Premier League Final at the Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes.

One man who has taken the darting world by storm in 2021 is Jonny Clayton.

Over the last 11 months, the Ferret has won the World Grand Prix, the Premier League, the Masters, and the World Series Finals. Away from the glamour of the majors, the Welshman also claimed two wins on the gruelling PDC Tour.

Clayton was eliminated at the quarter-final stage of last weekend's Grand Slam by his fellow countryman Price. Despite the 16-12 defeat, it was the Ferret who enjoyed the better average in the 28-leg battle.

The 47-year-old averaged over a 100 in four of his six games at the event and is without doubt the man to watch in Minehead.

Clayton appears to have an easier draw than Van Gerwen, with Joe Cullen being the only other top-ten player in his half.

That, plus the fact Clayton is priced at around the 6/1 mark, makes him our pre-tournament nap.

Still plenty of life in Peter Wright

Peter Wright reacts during his match in the final against Gerwyn Price at the Aldersley Leisure Village, Wolverhampton.

Last weekend's Grand Slam runner-up will be hoping to put his disappointing final defeat to Price behind him.

Snakebite was far from his best in the final, only averaging 91 in the 16-8 loss.

This has been a year of ups and downs for the Scot who won the World Matchplay and the World Cup of Darts but also endured early exits in other events.

Take the last couple of months for example. The 51-year-old lost in the second round of the Gibraltar Darts Trophy, the first round of the World Grand Prix and the first round of the European Championship.

The most painful of those recent defeats was his 6-1 trouncing at the hands of Kim Huybrechts in the second round of the World Series Finals.

Nevertheless, Wright will be looking to focus on the positives. The former world champion averaged 100 against Michael Smith and Fallon Sherrock in the latter stages of last week's Grand Slam - games which proved that the Scot is still alive and kicking.

Wright is fourth in the betting ahead of the Players Championship and is currently priced at around the 11/1 mark.

Is Gary Anderson a dark horse?

Gary Anderson during day two of the Ladbrokes Masters 2021 tournament at the Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes.

One man who will be popular with bettors is 50/1 shot Gary Anderson.

The last three years have seen the two-time world champion fall out of love with the sport. However, the 50-year-old recently admitted that the spark is beginning to return.

Anderson reached the knockout stage of the Grand Slam where he ultimately lost to Van Gerwen despite posting an average of 100.

The Scot impressed during the group stage where he picked up comprehensive wins over Joe Davis and Van Barneveld.

Anderson might not be at the height of his career but at 50/1, he's certainly one to consider.

Barney offers big price but little hope

Raymond Van Barneveld during his match against Darin Young during day two of the William Hill World Championships at Alexandra Palace, London.

Priced at 125/1, few are expecting Raymond van Barneveld to lift his first major title since 2014.

Nevertheless, the returning Barney does at least deserve a mention.

The Dutchman bowed out in the group stage of last week's Grand Slam despite putting up a half-decent fight.

Barney averaged 96 and 98 in his defeats to Gary Anderson and Michael Smith - two games which would have gone the Dutchman's way if he was more accurate on the doubles.

Having been drawn in the same bracket as Van Gerwen, Anderson and Wright, Barney certainly faces an uphill battle.

However, with no pressure on his shoulders, there's no reason why he couldn't go deep in a tournament which has seen him reach the quarter-final stage on four occasions.

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