Fri 2 Dec, 2016 @ 22:57 GMT

It’s been a strange time for darts lately. Not long after the draw for the 2017 PDC World Darts Championship was made, which on the surface seems to offer little in terms of tasty first round ties, Sky Sports announced they were parting company with Eric Bristow for an inappropriate tweet. Even someone who’s become part of the furniture isn’t safe, but the show must go on and the famous Ally Pally always provides one of those: 72 players competing for the coveted Sid Waddell Trophy and the cash pot of ¬£1.65m, over 19 days starting from December 15. Michael van Gerwen, or simply MVG, is the white-hot favourite, but there is a grain of truth in the theory that the set-play format can see his form dip now and again, so we shall see.

But everyone knows van Gerwen is the man to beat, looking for his second world title, blah, blah, blah. Nothing against the ‘Green Machine’, but enough lyrical has been waxed for one year, so let’s go elsewhere instead. Defending champion Gary Anderson would be a good start, as not only will he be looking to keep hold of his title but in doing so he would also become only the third player in ¬†history – after Bristow and Phil Taylor – to be crowned world champ three times on the spin.

Other threats to MVG’s hopes are several in number. Peter Wright is probably the most likely candidate and, with ‘Snakebite’ hungry for that first TV title, who’s to say it won’t be the big one? Of course, Raymond van Barneveld can never be ruled out, while James Wade is still desperate to lose the tag of being the most decorated PDC player never to pick up the sport’s biggest prize.

And what of Taylor? ‘The Power’ was conspicuous by his absence at the recent Players Championship, but you could spend all night pouring over the reasons for his no-show. It’s highly likely, however, that he wants to put every drop of energy he has into a bid for a 17th world championship win. It’s been something that’s far from a racing certainty for a good while now, but would it really be shock if it were to happen?

With Q-School looking more and more like a who’s who of the game, it’s inevitable that some familiar faces haven’t qualified this time. Ronnie Baxter, Wes Newton and Andy Hamilton, three players who were all tipped for major honours at one point, will have to wait until next year. One familiar face who will be there, but possibly for the final time, is Terry Jenkins. If this is his swansong you’d need a heart of stone not to wish him well – always the bridesmaid during his career but forever the best of sports.

If you’re a betting man/woman, and you don’t fancy picking an outright winner, then it might be worth waging on the in-form Jelle Klaasen to get through a few rounds. Mensur Suljovich, by far the most improved player this year, is also worth a punt, as is Darren Webster, who had a memorable Grand Slam and came oh so close to dispatching van Gerwen in the Players Championship. Big names it might be an idea to avoid include Dave Chisnall and Simon Whitlock.

As mentioned, there’s next to nothing in terms of standout matches, but ‘Demolition Man’ Webster’s tie with Stephen¬†Bunting is probably the pick of the bunch. Other than that, there’s Barney against Robbie Green, but there’s also the far more intriguing possibility of the big Dutchman meeting Taylor in the quarter-finals, with the winner almost certain to face van Gerwen in the semis. The other semi would likely comprise of two from Anderson, Wright and Wade.

So let Ally Pally‘s traditional festive mix of flights and fancy dress commence! It’s going to be a tough job to win six straight matches and pick up the trophy on January 2, but someone’s got to do it.

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