With Charlton’s pre-season campaign beginning at Park View Road on Saturday, the intensity of the preparation for the new Championship season is about to increase considerably.
While pre-season fixtures, at least for the spectator, are often something of a tedious affair, they also offer insight, answer burning questions, and, ultimately, set the level at which expectations should be for the season ahead.
And that is certainly the case for the Addicks. While events of recent weeks have created a degree of positivity, there remains many factors that are unknown.
Charlton’s seven first team pre-season fixtures should go some way to answering the following nine questions.
Has Guy Luzon got more strings to his bow?
Such was the quality of football played during the run of seven wins from nine under Luzon’s stewardship that the impressiveness of that has overridden the controversial manner in which the former Standard Liege boss was appointed.
And with good reason. The organised approach at the back complimented by the devastating threat on the break allowed the Addicks to both decimate opposition and grind out results depending on the situation.
But Luzon religiously stuck to his 4-4-2 after discovering its success. He had every right to, of course, but the lack of innovation as his side began to struggle towards the end of the season was a little concerning.
Hopefully the pre-season campaign shows he has a number of strategies to choose from, and that Luzon is capable of being imaginative and adaptable. He’ll be found out incredibly quickly if he’s not.
Can the ‘transfer listed’ players force their Charlton careers to be prolonged?
The days of a number of Addicks look numbered, but the current size of the Charlton squad and the pre-season schedule could offer them a lifeline.
Rhoys Wiggins, Andre Bikey, Callum Harriott and Joe Pigott will almost certainly be involved at Welling and beyond owing to the limited numbers currently in Charlton’s squad, that despite the group being allowed to leave.
Of course, there is a danger of getting carried away with pre-season performances. Especially performances which are motivated by an uncertain future.
But should any of the group impress while they remain at the club, there might well need to be a re-think about their long-term future.
That probably truest for Wiggins, who remains an excellent player but it would appear the club have grown frustrated by his injury record. Remaining fit throughout July, and impressing, could deliver a reminder to Luzon and co that allowing the Welshman to leave would be unwise.
Do the returning network players still have a future at the club?
You can be forgiven for forgetting that Loic Nego, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Piot Parzyszek are still Charlton players, but the trio, signed from or as part of the network strategy, have returned to the club following the completion of loans.
For Ghoochannejhad, the chances of a comeback appear slim. At the very least, few would welcome his return after he declared he no longer wished to play for the club last season, and effectively forced his way out.
So too would it be a surprise to see Nego given another go. Although a right-back is needed, the 24-year-old was signed when expectations of quality in the Championship were lower, and I fully expect him to be deemed not good enough relatively quickly.
Parzyszek is the most likely to be given a genuine chance to impress. While he failed to impress playing for the development squad in 13/14, and a few goals in the Belgian second tier don’t carry much weight, a reasonable amount was paid for the forward, and there will be a strong desire for some sort of return on that investment to be seen.
Regardless, Luzon has every right to offer all three a chance during pre-season, and judge for himself whether they’re up to standard. As long as a situation where he is pressurised to play them, as was the case for a former Charlton boss previously, doesn’t arise…
Which youngsters will be in and around the first team this season?
Since Charlton’s relegation from the Premier League, at least one youngster has broken into the first team, or made themselves a regular starter, each season.
And after another superb year for the club’s development and academy squads, you would expect pre-season to offer the chance to a number of the club’s youngsters to mix with the first team.
Especially with centre-back options limited, Harry Lennon and Ayo Obileye are likely to be given an opportunity to impress. Lennon looked competent enough during a handful of games in 2013/14, while Obileye impressed while on loan at Dagenham and Redbridge last season.
Tareiq Holmes-Dennis and Zak Ansah also enjoyed profitable loan spells at Plymouth Argyle, and Holmes-Dennis will move up the pecking order if Wiggins is moved on, while the contract Oliver Muldoon was awarded at the end of last season is a sign of how highly he’s rated by those at the club.
Pre-season should also provide the chance for Karlan Ahearne-Grant to blend back into the first team picture. Although he impressed in patches, the forward’s breakthrough last season came too early and during a time in which too much pressure was heaped upon his young shoulders.
Irrespective, catching a first glimpse of the latest academy graduates is one of the most redeeming features of the pre-season period.
Where will the new signings fit in?
With good reason, there is some excitement about Charlton’s summer signings so far. But there’s also question marks over how two of them will be deployed.
El-Hadji Ba would appear to be quite a versatile midfielder, suited to either a defensive or an advanced role. Whether he attacks or defends is likely to depend upon his partner in the centre.
For Simon Makienok, it’s a case of working it who will be his regular partner. There have been calls for the Addicks to give with three in attack to accommodate the Dane, Tony Watt, and Vetokele, but that would leave a side lacking any sort of balance.
This goes hand-in-hand with the first question. I’d be disappointed if Luzon didn’t experiment with a number of different systems, and therefore roles for the new additions.
Has the summer done Igor Vetokele some good?
A quick look at his Instagram account suggests Vetokele has had a rather enjoyable break. I think most would settle for getting married, a honeymoon in the Maldives, and moving into a rather plush new house.
It’s a break that Vetokele has long deserved and needed. The intensity of Championship footballer is often difficult for a foreign recruit to handle in their first season, and even more so when they are required to play on a number of occasions while injured.
It therefore came as no surprise that the Angolan was broken by the end of the campaign. He had given his absolute all, and resultantly struggled in the final month or so.
But it would be naïve to assume the Vetokele seen towards the end of last season has permanently replaced the one seen towards the start. Pre-season will hopefully provide the proof that the goal scoring and hardworking Vetokele was merely temporarily unavailable.
Will Franck Moussa play a substantial role this season?
The signing of Moussa promised so much last summer, but ultimately proved disappointing. Not only due to his season-ending injury, but also given the fact he failed to dramatically impress in the handful of games he did manage.
But with the Belgian presumably fit again, there is a chance his return could act like a new signing once again. His pace, goal-scoring ability and, in a small squad, versatility, should all prove crucial.
He will, however, have some work to do to force his way back into contention, and it is of paramount importance that he impresses during pre-season.
Who will be second choice goalkeeper?
There is no doubt that Stephen Henderson, consistently brilliant last season, will remain as Charlton’s first choice between the sticks, but there is something of a battle over who will be his reserve.
Marko Dmitrovic showed himself to a decent shot stopper, but failed to command his area, while Nick Pope blew his chance to impress after Henderson’s injury with a number of error-prone performances.
But Pope has impressed on a consistent basis in League Two, and showed his talent for the Addicks before the questionable displays against Blackpool and Blackburn. Shunning him and moving him on would be a mistake – there’s a very good goalkeeper, there.
I think you’ll get a very certain answer to this question at Park View Road on Saturday.
Will the mascots be as terrifying as the designs suggest?
I can just about handle the Robin, but the Knight has given 20-year-old me nightmares.
There’s every chance The Valley will be littered with crying children on a weekly basis and Floyd and Harvey will have to make a return by February.