Five Scots to watch out for as the English Premier League kicks off this weekend

Date: 5th August 2015

THIS weekend sees the beginning of another English Premier League season, the wealthiest and most heavily broadcast league in the world.

And while there aren’t as many Scots playing south of the border as there were in the second half of the twentieth century, there are still several plying their trade from Old Trafford to Stamford Bridge.

Whether it’s a first step into the Premiership, or hoping to return to form or fitness, Ben Ramage has looked at five Scottish internationals looking to make a big impact this season.

Matt Ritchie – Bournemouth

The exciting winger has finally reached the Premier League after working his way up the divisions with Swindon Town and the Cherries. Ritchie played a huge part in Bournemouth’s title winning season, as he reached double figures in both goals and assists, and ended the season with an impressive 15 goals from out wide. Eddie Howe will be relying on him to continue to pose an attacking and goal scoring threat against the stronger defences of the Premier League.

His brilliant form for Bournemouth coincided with his first Scotland call-up, with Strachan always on the look-out for attacking talent. He has made four appearances for the national side since his debut against Northern Ireland, and notched his first goal in another recent friendly against Qatar. His pace and quality with the ball suggests he can thrive in the Premier League, which could help cement his place further in the national team.

Ikechi Anya – Watford

‘Kechi’ burst onto the national scene as a relative unknown when he was first called up by Strachan, the then Watford player who began his career at Wycombe Wanderers before spending several years in Spain with Sevilla B, Celta Vigo and Granada. Strachan’s decision was quickly vindicated when he made an impressive debut against Belgium before scoring in his next game against Macedonia.

Now a Scotland regular with 15 caps, Anya has been employed as a wing-back for much of his career at Watford. But with yet another new manager, Chico Flores, to impress it remains to be seen where he will fit next at the Hornets having made most of his international appearances as a winger. He played a full 90 minutes in their final pre-season friendly against Sevilla though, which suggests he is firmly in Flores plans. His versatility combined with his electric pace should see him become a key player as Watford aim to avoid relegation, as he finally tests himself on the platform many Tartan Army supporters believe he belongs.

Steven Fletcher – Sunderland

A huge season lies ahead for Steven Fletcher. When he signed for Sunderland for £12 million in 2012 having reached double figures for a struggling Wolves side two seasons in a row, it appeared he was set to become the goal scoring number nine that Scotland had been craving. However, a spate of unsettling injuries has led to an inconsistent career at Sunderland, with many Mackems and Scotland supporters close to losing patience with the former Hibernian hitman.

That being said Fletcher has always offered much more to teams than just goals, with an excellent footballing brain which often leads to great hold up play and assists for teammates. This is the reason Gordon Strachan rates him so highly, and with Sunderland coach Dick Advocaat appearing to give him a vote of confidence by shipping out one of his attacking rivals Connor Wickham instead of him. He featured heavily in Sunderland’s preseason tour of America, and it is now time for Fletcher to prove himself once more on the Premier League stage.

Russell Martin – Norwich

Looking forward to a return to Premier League action is Norwich skipper Russell Martin. Having long established himself at the Canaries, highly rated ex-Hamilton manager Alex Neil has handed the defender the armband again ahead of what could be a very testing season as they aim to stay in the league having been promoted via last seasons Championship play-offs.

The right back earned the nickname ‘The Norfolk Cafu’ for his exploits at Carrow Road, but it was his performances filling in at centre-back which led Strachan to call for him to fill one of Scotland’s most problematic positions. He hasn’t let the Tartan Army down yet, making 19 appearances for the national team and it will be great to see him fight to keep Norwich up this year alongside fellow Scots Steven Whittaker and Graham Dorrans.

Darren Fletcher – West Brom

Another captain hoping to lead his team to a strong season is Darren Fletcher, who finally looks to have put his horrendous injury troubles behind him. He can now focus on reasserting himself as one of the league’s most effective and influential midfielders, at the heart of Tony Pulis’s West Brom side. The Baggies struggled towards the end of last season, but with international teammate James Morrison alongside him Fletcher will be hoping to power them back towards to the top half of the table.

He will also be desperate to help lead Scotland back to a first international tournament for 18 years, as this may be one of his last chances to play at a major tournament given his age and history of injuries. The former Manchester United star surely deserves a chance more than most to lead his country out at France after battling back from his terrible illness, should Strachan’s side make it to Euro 2016.

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