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Players Championship Preview: High-profile absences add to the intrigue

The top 16 players on the one-year ranking list do battle for the Players Championship title this week and the form player of the season Mark Allen heads a star-studded field.

Allen has had a scintillating campaign, winning three titles including the UK Championship in November, and the Northern Irishman is 11/2 to add further silverware at the Aldersley Leisure Village in Wolverhampton.

Below-par seasons for Neil Robertson, Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams mean they are all missing from the event, but five of the world's top ten are still involved.

Judd Trump, Mark Selby, Allen and Kyren Wilson are the four highest-ranked players in the line-up and Trump, who is at number 12 on the one-year ranking list, is 7/2 market leader.

Robert Milkins' Welsh Open triumph on Sunday saw him rise up to fourth on the one-year money list and he is 33/1 for a quick follow-up, while his final victim in Llandundo, Shaun Murphy, is 11/1 to go one better.

With the draw based on this season's earnings there are some tasty last-16 ties in store, with Selby locking horns with Murphy, Luca Brecel squaring up against Jack Lisowski and Ali Carter taking on Trump.

The last-16, quarter-finals and semi-finals are all played over a best-of-11 format, before the final goes first to ten and a new champion will be crowned as Australian ace Robertson is unable to defend his title.

WhatPlayers Championship
WhereAldersley Leisure Village, Wolverhampton
WhenMonday 20th February - Sunday 26th February
How to watchbet365 Live Sports Streaming, Eurosport, ITV
OddsJudd Trump 7/2, Mark Allen 11/2, Mark Selby 13/2, Ding Junhui 8/1, Kyren Wilson 9/1

Murphy rediscovering his magic

Murphy finished as runner-up to Milkins at the Welsh Open on Sunday, going down 9-7 in the final, and he has been dealt a tough opening against Selby in Wolverhampton.

However, prior to the Welsh title decider, Murphy had looked in brilliant touch and had been scoring freely, highlighted by a maximum 147 break as well as a 145 in his 4-1 win over Daniel Wells.

With no title in three years, nerves clearly played some sort of a part as Murphy was unable to rediscover his A-game when it mattered most.

But getting to that final should have restored plenty of confidence for the Magician, who was also a semi-finalist at the World Grand Prix in late January.

Murphy is evidently edging closer to breaking his losing spell and the 2021 World Championship runner-up could be worth keeping on side again this week.

An opening game with Selby is far from the ideal circumstances but the Jester from Leicester has looked vulnerable in recent tournaments.

Selby was beaten in his opening game at the Masters and the World Grand Prix and then was a second-round casualty in Wales last week, losing 4-2 to eventual champion Milkins having previously edged past Si Jiahui 4-3.

Murphy looks in better nick than Selby at present and at 6/5 makes plenty of appeal to prevail in that epic first-round clash.

And doing so would see him rewarded with a potentially generous route to the final as Ryan Day or Snooker Shootout hero Chris Wakelin await the winner in the quarter-final.

Also drawn in the bottom half of the draw are Kyren Wilson, Zhou Yuelong, Gary Wilson and Ding Junhui, but Murphy appears to be in stronger voice currently and at 11/1 the Magician may have been underestimated.

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Carter could outrun his odds

Trump is tournament favourite in Wolverhampton this week, but the Ace in the Pack looked a bit dejected at the recent Welsh Open, where he was beaten by amateur Wells in the second round.

Having also looked below his best in his 4-2 win over Louis Heathcote in the opening round, Trump could be worth opposing and Carter could upset the odds in his opening game.

The Captain won the German Masters at the start of this month, defeating Tom Ford 10-3 in the final, having also overcome Milkins and Junxu Pang.

Given Milkins went on to win the Welsh Open title and Pang was also a semi-finalist, that form looks strong and at 7/4 he is an interesting play to topple Trump.

With Milkins or Ford waiting in the quarter-final if Carter prevails, his tournament outright odds of 20/1 are also worth considering for small stakes.

The super-consistent Allen is also in the top half of the draw and while he could again take some stopping, an outright quote of 11/2 is of little interest given either Brecel or Lisowski are likely to face him in the quarter-final.

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