I firmly believe we have the raw materials to play an intelligent, fluent, penetrative game on the ball and a high tempo, agressive pressing game off the ball. We have two XIs packed with players who are more than capable of playing this way if they're given firm instruction over a period of time, well-drilled and if the less intelligent among them are reined in, with others afforded slightly more freedom in their movement and decision-making. Below are the two XIs I think fit closest to the style we've been discussing and I would hope that our idea is to maintain a fluidity between the stiffs and the first XI, so that every player knows they have plenty of direct competition for their role.
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique* Kelly (Flanagan) Coates Wilson (Wisdom) Robinson
Gerrard Aquilani Shelvey Suso
Suarez Maxi/Bellamy Eccleston/Pacheco Sterling
*Enrique is my only worry in that first XI. He showed throughout last season that he's desperately one-footed, constantly has to repeat his tractoresque turning circle when cutting inside and isn't the brightest, although it didn't help that he had Downing ahead of him for most games, since, as we've discussed on other threads, his movement lacks guile and creates difficulties for the full-back when we attack.
For me, it'd be madness not to keep Aquilani, as he's the best player on our books in either AM role in terms of balancing creativity with tactical discipline. He intercepts, has a superb passing range and good decision-making skills, drives into defences with direct passing, is versatile on the ball and makes things happen in the final third, which will be imperative for us when we switch to a more patient style. He does like to take several touches on the ball before releasing it, which is fine if he's afforded space, but having said that, I don't think he's the kind of player who would wilt if forced to play it early most of the time, since he has a great eye for triangles.
For his movement alone, Maxi is worth 10 goals a season minimum if he's a regular starter (in terms of his goals and assists). Even if not, he's a very valuable option to have in this new system as his late runs into the box give us an additional threat we desperately lacked last season. Bellamy can't play every game, so I'd love to see him, Maxi and Sterling rotated in this position.
I've omitted Dirk because it's unclear what his position is re: Rodgers, but although he presses well, we may have seen the best of his attacking game, so I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't with us next season. I'd be disappointed if Adam and Downing were still here come August, since I just don't believe they have the intelligence or decision-making abilities this system requires. Although Downing can be a threat when he skips to the byline and gets an early ball in, that's no way to guarantee consistent goals, especially when we usually only have one man in the box. It's also not consistent with the philosophy I expect us to adopt.
We also clearly need an upgrade on Spearing, who I'd expect to be on his way despite significant improvement over the last two years, and it seems we've been looking for a while. Like some others, I'd be interested to see Coady as an understudy to Lucas in pre-season to see how he makes the step up in that system. It's anathema to some on here, but I really do believe too many of are guilty of seeing things in Henderson which just aren't there. He's a very, very limited player indeed and the constant defence of him as a player who can 'move the ball' or 'keep it ticking over' (i.e. pass the thing to another red shirt) is an indictment of his weaknesses. I'd be disappointed if Rodgers falls for this apologia when we have several players capable of adding much more to our game in Aquilani (it's absurd to even have to justify his inclusion ahead of Henderson), Shelvey, Suso and possibly Teixeira if he's eased into the squad. All of those mentioned are capable of playing as playmaker AMs (since I don't expect that responsibility to fall with Lucas at DM) or in the case of Aquilani, Shelvey and Suso, as the slightly deeper, more disciplined AM supporting another who's in a free role.
There's much to be done this summer and in terms of signings, I believe we're short of a quality left back who's good on the ball (the perennial Insua regret may never wane), a DM capable of stepping in for Lucas at a similar level, a threatening, intelligent winger capable of playing on both sides or as an inside forward, and a well-rounded striker capable of linking between the wide men and midfield, as well as playing off the shoulder and burning defenders for pace (unleashing Aquilani, Stevie and Suso's creative potential).
It would also be refreshing to see Pacheco used in an inside forward role in pre-season to see how he's developed on his loan spells, since he has in theory all the qualities to thrive in that position in our new system. Of the ressie keepers, Doni is the most capable of playing the sweeper role, but I doubt him and Jones will be on our books at the start of the season and we could do with an upgrade in the back-up keeper position anyway. Although not a priority, I'd also like us to add a striker to the Academy who fits into this new model to compete with Morgan and Ngoo and can perhaps end the season training with the first team occasionally, with a view to challenging Carroll and whoever we bring into the first team, assuming we do.