Champions League of Darts: Gary Anderson seeks return to top form as defending champion
|Paddy Power Champions League of Darts|
|Date: 19-20 October Venue: Morningside Arena, Leicester|
|Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Sport website; live text coverage of Sunday's final session on the BBC Sport website and app|
Gary Anderson will start the defence of his Champions League of Darts title on Saturday hoping to rediscover his very best form after an injury-hit year.
Anderson, the world champion in 2015 and 2016, pulled out of the Premier League in February with a back problem.
"The back is fine but it's just taken a bit of time to get back to how I can play," he told BBC Sport.
The Scot, 48, plays World Championship runner-up Michael Smith in his first match on Saturday afternoon.
They are in the same group as James Wade and world number one Michael van Gerwen, who is aiming to end an unwanted personal record - it is the only major televised tournament in the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) that he has yet to win.
Anderson won the World Cup representing Scotland alongside Peter Wright in June, but his personal results have not quite been as impressive as recent seasons, with exits in the last 16 of both the World Matchplay and the World Grand Prix.
He continued: "I thought I would walk straight back into darts and they'd go in how they used to go in, but it's just taking a bit longer and it's got me a bit puzzled.
"But it's getting there. Each week I can see an improvement but it's just taking a bit longer than I thought it would."
The schedules of the leading players become much more congested in the final three months of the year, with the Champions League one of six major televised events in October and November before the PDC World Championship starts on 13 December.
"That's the big one," said Anderson. "That's the daddy.
"It's a busy circuit leading up to the World Championship and this is when players want to put their stamp down to put pressure on other players.
"'He's playing well so I need to up my game' - that's how it works, so every tournament and every title means a lot between now and the World Championship."
As defending champion, Anderson qualified automatically for this year's Champions League alongside the other seven players who make up the top eight in the PDC's Order of Merit.
He is the only previous champion in the field in Leicester. Phil Taylor, who won the first title in 2016, has since retired, while 2017 winner Mensur Suljovic failed to qualify.
This year's only debutant is Gerwyn Price, who has enjoyed a rapid rise up the PDC rankings in the past few years since committing himself full-time to darts following a career in professional rugby.
"Especially over the past 12-18 months, I've started to really perform well," said the 34-year-old Welshman, who will defend his Grand Slam of Darts title in Wolverhampton next month.
"I've lost a couple of games that I probably shouldn't have lost, but over the past 12-18 months I think I thoroughly deserve my position in the top eight.
"Hopefully I can push forward and get into the top four after the World Championship.
"I've been playing really well for most of the year on the floor, making quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals a lot of the time.
"I just haven't seemed to be able to do it on the big stage. Hopefully with three games in this event, I can push forward and have a good run."
Champions League of Darts schedule
Saturday, 19 October
- Daryl Gurney v Peter Wright (B)
- Rob Cross v Gerwyn Price (B)
- Michael Smith v Gary Anderson (A)
- Michael van Gerwen v James Wade (A)
- Four group matches; afternoon session winners in each group face each other, as do afternoon session losers
Sunday, 20 October
- Four remaining group matches
- Semi-finals and final