Atletico gearing up for title defence
Atletico Madrid, like many of their peers, will be clocking up the air miles this preseason, having already visited California and Mexico ahead of trips to Turkey (versus Galatasaray Aug. 6), Germany (Wolfsburg Aug. 10) and Cadiz (Aug. 15). Here are some thoughts following the Americas leg of their preseason tour as we approach the start of the campaign.
New attacking signings are going to be crucial, and more are needed
As the saying goes: goals win games. Both of Atleti's matches finished in goalless draws and were decided on penalty shootouts (one win, one loss). The common consensus is that if Los Rojiblancos had a bit more spark up top, they would have won both games comfortably.
That new signings Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann were not there -- with hulking midfielder Raul Garcia leading the line in their absence -- showed just how important they are going to be this season. Atletico looked toothless, just as they did at times toward the end of the last campaign as Diego Costa was nursing injury. Then they had a combination of momentum, will power and adrenaline, which saw them over the line, but that has been lost over the summer break.
With the traveling party now returning to Europe, it is imperative that both Mandzukic and Griezmann are integrated into the starting XI as quickly as possible, in order for them to get maximum playing time with their teammates ahead of the Spanish Supercup against city rivals Real Madrid and the side's defence of their La Liga crown.
Leo Baptistao has returned from his loan spell at Real Betis but does not yet look ready to assume the responsibility of leading the line, meaning Croatia international Mandzukic remains the club's only senior recognised striker, and this is something that the board will have to address. With links to Manchester United's Javier Hernandez refusing to go away, Los Colchoneros must act quickly in order to secure a different option for when the former Bayern Munich forward inevitably picks up a knock or experiences a dip in form.
Now could be the time to cash in on Miranda
An outstanding campaign at the heart of La Liga's tightest defence last season left some flabbergasted at Luiz Felipe Scolari's decision to omit Joao Miranda from this summer's Brazil World Cup squad. However, for the player and his employers, it is probably the best thing that could have happened. Spared the ignominy of thrashings by Germany and Holland, the defender's reputation -- and morale -- remains well and truly intact.
Summer transfer window roundup
- Premier League: Team-by-team ins and outs
- Transfer Centre: All the done deals
- Marcotti: Mind-boggling transfers
- Delaney: What did we learn on deadline day?
- Horncastle: European transfer grades
- Smith: Transfers more important than the game?
- Macintosh: We worship goals, not balance sheets
After a summer of uncertainty, rumour still surrounds the Brazilian, who has been linked with Barcelona, Manchester United and more recently Chelsea.
Shrewd operators in the market, Atleti's hierarchy will know that the defender -- who turns 30 at the beginning of September -- is more than likely at the height of his professional worth right now, especially as his contract expires in 2016.
With Toby Alderweireld looking for more game time centrally following the arrival of full-back Cristian Ansaldi, in addition to Jose Gimenez's emergence alongside Diego Godin during the World Cup, it would be of little surprise if the club were to cash in for around 20 to 25 million Euros.
The future's bright
19-year-old Saul Niguez has returned from a season on loan at Rayo Vallecano and looks ready to compete for a first-team berth alongside Koke, who at 22 is widely tipped by many as Xavi Hernandez's natural successor in the Spanish national team.
Atleti will be hoping from both a personal and professional point of view that 19-year-old Angel Correa -- dubbed "the new Sergio Aguero" -- can recover from surgery on a heart defect that has seen his transfer to Los Rojiblancos put on hold for now, and join up with the reigning La Liga champions at some point this season.
New signing Griezmann has recently turned 23, while the club are expecting to complete the signing of Zakaria Bakkali, one of the latest stars to emerge from Belgium. The 18-year-old will more than likely be loaned out initially, but he has a big future at the Vicente Calderon.
Add this to the arrival of goalkeeper Jan Oblak (21), the performances of Gimenez (19) in Brazil this summer and the fact Oliver Torres (19) will be playing regular Champions League football while on loan at Porto this season, the future certainly looks bright for Atleti.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.