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 Posted by Joseph Walker
Aug 10, 2014

Koke, Mandzukic shine vs. Wolfsburg

Mario Mandzukic bagged his first tally in an Atleti shirt against Wolfsburg on Sunday.

The touring has finally finished. The club's pockets have been lined, the Spanish league's marketing department will be satisfied and the message of Atletico Madrid has been spread over North and South America, in addition to Turkey and Germany.

While there's still one more preseason fixture to come away to Cadiz on Friday, the players can now prepare for the defence of their league title and the upcoming Spanish Supercup among familiar surroundings.

With the Colchoneros having been pretty goal-shy all summer, questions were raised about the players' desire following the emotional toll that last season took on them and the side's ability to cope without Diego Costa. Sunday's match was demonstration of just how good this side is.

The 5-1 hammering of Wolfsburg at the Volkswagen Arena was a reminder -- a proverbial slap in the face -- to all of Europe that this side is not just a flash in the pan. They are up for the fight of defending their La Liga title, and want to go one better than last season in the Champions League.

Despite having lost Thibaut Courtois and Filipe Luis, the defence is looking every bit as solid as the back line that shipped only 26 league goals last season. New boys Jesus Gamez and Cristian Ansaldi will provide excellent cover and competition for Juanfran and Guilherme Siqueira, while Diego Godin and Joao Miranda complement each other perfectly.

A deflected Naldo free kick was the only blot on an otherwise excellent defensive performance, but that can be forgiven when you consider it is the first goal they have conceded in five warm-up games.

Koke is looking like Spain's World Cup woes have not affected him, and was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch after coming on as a halftime substitute. He assisted on the side's second in addition to scoring a sublime fourth, and will be crucial for Diego Simeone this campaign. If he can build the kind of relationship with Mario Mandzukic that he had with Costa, the Vicente Calderon will be in for a treat.

- Mario Suarez hospitalised with head injury
- Firepower needed at Atletico

Perhaps the most crucial aspect from Sunday's game for Simeone was the fact Mandzukic bagged his first goal in a Rojiblanco shirt. Peter Crouch at Liverpool is the famous example of how important getting a goal early into your career at a new club can be, becoming the butt of many a joke as he waited 19 games for his first strike for the club.

While this may not ultimately count toward his tally, it will give the Croatia international confidence, and both player and coach will not mind that it came from the penalty spot. In fact, Simeone will probably be hoping that in Mandzukic he has a reliable penalty-taker, given the side's hit-and-miss record from the spot last year.

Showing poise, balance and calmness as he rounded goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, and there were some worried looks on the faces of the travelling Atleti faithful as the former Bayern Munich man was hacked down by covering defender Naldo.

After dusting himself off, an almighty thump down the middle proved enough for his first goal in an Atleti shirt. Despite the fact celebrations were muted -- as seems to be the norm in modern football -- given the strike came against a former club, there was a degree of relief etched onto the striker's face.

While this was a stellar display from the No. 9, who was ably supported by Raul Garcia, there is a real need for more firepower.

On Sunday, Spanish daily AS reported that Mexico forward Raul Jimenez is now the club's top target, and that negotiations were carried out between the reigning La Liga champions and Club America following the sides' friendly at the end of last month. Maybe there is an on-the-pitch aspect to these tours after all.

The 23-year-old is, by all accounts, a goal-getter with 31 in 92 games for his club, and represents a dramatic (and sensible) shift of focus away from the romantic notion that old boy Fernando Torres could return to the club and rediscover his goal-scoring touch.

However, whether he is the right Mexican for Atletico, with Javier Hernandez also supposedly up for sale this summer, remains to be seen. What is certain is that with the first leg of the Supercup against Real Madrid just over a week away, a deal needs to be done, and it needs to be done soon.

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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