By 90Min
September 10, 2018

BT Sport Women's Super League pundits and former England internationals Sue Smith and Laura Bassett are delighted to see the shift towards a fully professional English top flight this season, as well as picking their favourites for the title and talented players to watch out for.

Responding to questions posed by 90min fans, Smith and Bassett both described themselves as 'proud' to see the transition to a professional league with 11 full-time clubs, certainly not feeling any bittersweet sentiments about it, having not had this opportunity during their own careers.

"I'm really proud and pleased for all the opportunities in women's football now that the players have," Bassett said. "In my career I managed to feel like I was professional, especially with the England central contract that helped in the last few years.

"For the young girls growing up, they can actually say, 'I want to be a professional footballer'. I hope that all the players that have played their before have played their part in the history and getting women's football to this level."

Smith added, "I'm just really proud that it's taking that next step towards professionalism, every single player in the top flight is a professional footballer. I think it makes the league competitive because it's not professional teams vs semi-professional teams, which I didn't think was fair."

Part of that move into professionalism has made it a league requirement that all WSL clubs in the top flight must have an academy, producing talent to improve quality long-term, make the league sustainable and also benefit the national team by creating a deeper selection pool.

"It's great that we've got international players wanting to come to our league, but we're not forgetting about the youngsters and the home grown talent coming through," Smith explained.

"They're training a lot of hours, they'll have the right nutrition, the right sports science, so it's not much of a big step when [young players] get into that first team. It's quite a smooth transition, so I think we'll see lots of young players coming through."

There are already plenty of talented players at clubs up and down the WSL, but asked to name some perhaps lesser known individuals for new fans to watch out for, Smith, Bassett and BT Sport anchor Eilidh Barbour chose Lucy Staniforth (Birmingham), Chloe Kelly (Everton), Lauren Hemp (Man City), Lauren Bruton (Reading) and Erin Cuthbert (Chelsea) to keep an eye on.

As for the strongest teams, Smith identified West Ham as having recruited well - "Matt Beard (coach) has looked at players in the top teams who aren't playing as much as they would like but are still top quality players" - but both pundits find it tough to look beyond Manchester City and Chelsea.

"Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea have got the biggest budgets and I think they've been able to recruit four or five top international players, who bring a wealth of experience and don't need to learn how to be a professional like maybe some of the younger players do," Bassett said.

Smith said, "I think it's between Chelsea and Manchester City."

And while both believe that a dark horse contender for the title is fairly unlikely, Bassett suggested that if there is going to be one it would probably be Arsenal.

"We know very much about City and Chelsea and I think that Arsenal, having gained the Continental Cup last year, they'll be looking to stamp their authority back on the league, so I think the league might be their priority," the retired centre-back explained.

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