THE 2019 Unibet Premier League continues with Night Six in Nottingham on Thursday, as in-form Gerwyn Price looks to maintain his unbeaten start to the campaign against four-time champion Michael van Gerwen, while UK Open Champion Nathan Aspinall makes his Premier League debut.
The highly-anticipated match-up at the Motorpoint Arena will see fourth-placed Price look to preserve his record as the only player yet to taste defeat in this year's competition against third-placed Van Gerwen, who is without a win in his last two Premier League outings.
The pair have enjoyed similar starts to 2019, both winning two ProTour titles, and both taking seven points from their opening five matches in this year's tightly-grouped Premier League.
"Obviously Michael is the number one player in the world and the reigning World Champion, but I know I can give him a good run and I'm confident I can beat him," said Price, who is yet to beat Van Gerwen in 13 attempts.
"Every time in the past when I've played the likes of Michael I've thought 'can I do it?' but now I'm in a position where I know I can.
"I knew I needed to win last week against Mensur [Suljovic] ahead of this week's tough game against Michael and even though I wasn't at my best I managed to keep my good run going.
"I'm not afraid of him or anybody and I know if I play my a game I can beat him. You always know he's going to play well but if his 'A game' comes out then I'll have to bring my 'A+ game' out."
After winning his opening three matches of the season, Van Gerwen suffered a shock defeat to James Wade in Exeter and could only manage a draw with Scottish favourite John Henderson in Aberdeen on Night Five.
The Dutchman has won the league phase every year since his Premier League debut in 2013, but failure to defeat Welsh number one Price would see Van Gerwen go three games without victory for just the second time in Premier League history.
"I'm really looking forward to the match against Gerwyn," said Van Gerwen.
"He is in good form and has done really well recently to be fair to him but I know - and he knows - that I play close to my best game I will win.
"I've shown many times that I have what it takes to bounce back from disappointed results and come back stronger and I am aiming for that to start on Thursday night."
Aspinall will compete in Nottingham as the latest Contender to replace Gary Anderson during the opening nine weeks of the Premier League season.
The Stockport ace was selected in February shortly after his superb run to the World Championship semi-finals at Alexandra Palace, where he made his big-stage breakthrough.
He was eventually stopped by a brilliant Michael Smith performance in the last four - and the pair will lock horns again on Thursday.
"It should hopefully be another good game. The semi-final was a great game - Michael played phenomenal darts so hopefully on Thursday night I can get my own back on him," said Aspinall.
"I'm not just getting brought on as a contender, I'm getting brought on as a major winner, so I'm really looking forward to the walk-on!
"I've been in the World Championship semi-finals, won a major and am in the top 16, and none of it's really sunk in. At the moment it's all a bit of a blur, but I would really like to make my mark in the Premier League."
"I'm going to enjoy it and hopefully it's going to be the most enjoyable game that I've played in my career so far, in front of a massive crowd.
"I know I won the UK Open, but my performances weren't my best so I want to play at the level I know I can play at and prove to everyone that I'm worth a shot in the Premier League next year."
2009 champion Wade moved to the top of the league table following his Exeter win over Van Gerwen and whitewash of Daryl Gurney a week ago, and he faces Suljovic in Nottingham as he bids to continue his strong start to the year.
Wade has the highest match average and tournament checkout percentage of the nine regular competitors, and is averaging a joint-highest 101.30 following five weeks.
"I'm happy with how the season's going so far, I still believe I'm one of the best in the world, if not the best at chosen times," said Wade.
"I know I can play darts and I believe every dart player knows I can, and I can hurt anyone. But it's the same as every story, talk is cheap.
"People think darts is all about averages but people are concentrating too much on numbers rather than just enjoying themselves."
Departing Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld will continue his search for a first win of the season against former World Champion Rob Cross, while Daryl Gurney will be looking to end a run of two losses against world number three Peter Wright.
Fifth Night's Matches:
Nathan Aspinall v Michael Smith
James Wade v Mensur Suljovic
Rob Cross v Raymond van Barneveld
Gerwyn Price v Michael van Gerwen
Peter Wright v Daryl Gurney