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Aug 6, 2014

Atletico need more firepower to live up to last season

ESPN FC's Stuart Holden discusses the effect of European teams playing in the U.S. following comments from La Liga president, Javier Tebas.

Another game, another blank.

There are those who argue that you should not read too much into preseason games. That they are just glorified training sessions aimed at helping players regain match fitness after a few weeks on the beach.

While this might be true to an extent, there can be little doubt that it helps to gain the odd win along the way. Atletico Madrid have now played four preseason fixtures, and won only one of them; 1-0 against Spanish second division side Numancia on July 23.

Wednesday's goalless draw against Galatasaray in Turkey was their third stalemate in a row, following 0-0 draws with San Jose Earthquakes and America Mexico, and Los Rojiblancos' lack of goals stands out like a sore thumb.

Firstly, the mitigating factors. Exciting new signing Antoine Griezmann has not been involved in any of this summer's fixtures, meaning there is an attacking spark still to come into the side, albeit from a wider position.

Striker Mario Mandzukic was playing only his second game with new teammates, and needs time to adapt to a new playing style, culture and language.

Also, we must not forget Galatasaray are no mugs. They came second in the Turkish Super Lig last season and thus earned an automatic spot in this season's Champions League group stages. The Turkish side have a new coach in Cesare Prandelli, and there is bound to be a honeymoon period following the Italian's arrival.

It has been a tough schedule, but there can ultimately be little sympathy for the air miles clocked up by the club, given it is they who have chosen to fly halfway round the world and back to play in glamour friendlies as they look to take advantage of the riches and international recognition brought about by last season's glorious La Liga triumph against the odds.

Though this might be good for the club's coffers and will no doubt keep the Spanish Football League's marketing department happy, the side now look a little tired and it seems they would rather be in the Spanish capital, preparing for their Super Cup derby against Real Madrid. Unfortunately for them there will be another flight and a different hotel ahead of the game against Wolfsburg in Germany scheduled for Sunday.

Atletico Madrid appear to have few consistent scoring options aside from newly acquired striker Mario Mandzukic.

But back to Tuesday night in Izmit, Turkey. On a hugely positive note, the defence looks as sturdy as ever. Miguel Angel Moya is not Thibaut Courtois, but he has kept three clean sheets in as many games and looks like a steady pair of hands. Following an injury to 16 million Euro arrival Jan Oblak, Moya could well be required for the aforementioned Supercup and start of the league season.

Guilherme Siqueira, meanwhile, has taken on the 'Filipe Luis role', and truth be told, there does not look to be much of a gulf in class between the two Brazilians. Juanfran looks as if his summer break was spent doing shuttle runs up and down the touchline, while Joao Miranda and Diego Godin are arguably the best centre back pairing in European football right now.

It is further up the field where there are one or two question marks, with the side only having one senior, recognised centre forward.

Despite not scoring, Mandzukic did what he's known, showing the fighting qualities which make him a perfect fit for this Colchoneros outfit. He battled in the air, worked tirelessly on and off the ball, and perhaps most importantly linked up well with Koke -- the man who laid on 13 goals for teammates during the last campaign. The only thing missing were his shooting boots. The Croatia international missed a couple of good opportunities you would normally have expected him to bury.

- Walker: Fernando Torres not the man for Atleti

This is where squad depth comes into play. There will be days when Diego Simeone's men struggle for ideas, as was often the case towards the end of last season. The difference is that back then they had an end goal. A title was within their sights, they dragged themselves over the line -- somehow -- and were bailed out by some timely interventions from their defenders during attacking set pieces.

Now there is no such momentum.

When Mandzukic is having 'one of those days' (and as with any striker they are bound to come around every now and then) there are little alternatives to turn to on the bench. Should the former Bayern Munich man get injured, then there really will be panic in the stands of the Vicente Calderon.

Given all the talk of a possible return for Fernando Torres or a move for Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, it is evident that Simeone knows what his squad needs. The only problem is so does every chairman across Europe, and Atleti could well be made to pay the price -- literally --for not acting sooner.

Joseph Walker

Joseph is a sports journalist based in the Spanish capital and can regularly be seen in the Vicente Calderon press box trying not to celebrate when Atletico Madrid score. Follow him on Twitter @Joe_in_espana.

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