Strong Atletico preseason validating Diego Simeone's 'no limits' outlook
Amid all the transfer madness of the past couple of weeks, Atletico Madrid are quietly going about their preseason in an impressive way. Wins against Napoli and Liverpool (on penalties) helped them lift the Audi Cup, and while it is not the most prestigious piece of silverware available, the performances of the side certainly give rise to optimism.
Just two goals shipped against rivals of European pedigree -- one of which came from the penalty spot -- shows that the defence remains in good shape, and the performances of Lucas Hernandez and Jose Maria Gimenez against Liverpool's electric frontline were particularly impressive.
The hectic game against Brighton earlier this week can be chalked off as one of those days: some excellent defending from the hosts and profligate finishing from Atleti ensured the scoreline was much closer than it should have been, but nevertheless Atleti still emerged the victors, 3-2.
With the prospect of more back-to-back games this weekend against local rivals Getafe and Leganes looming as Diego Simeone prepares to put the finishing touches to his preparations for the forthcoming season, the Argentine can look back on this preseason and smile: in his own words, "there are no limits" to his side.
Despite the fact he has had to endure a transfer ban that has set back the club's plans somewhat, the Argentine needed the fringe members of his squad to step up to the plate. Fortunately, the likes of Thomas Partey, Keidi Bare and Sergi Gonzalez have all put their cases forward for inclusion in his plans in the first half of the season.
Some impressive performances mean Partey has been given the vacant No. 5 shirt -- an indication of just how highly he is thought of -- while full-back Gonzalez will allow Lucas Hernandez to play more centrally and give Filipe Luis the occasional afternoon or two off, which will be more and more needed given his age.
Bare's standout displays -- both in the training camp and with his goal against Liverpool -- mean that he will be part of the midfield shakeup this season. Testament to Simeone's faith in the youngster is that he has started to shift out deadwood from the squad, but kept him around.
Matias Kranevitter -- once seen as the heir to Javier Mascherano in Argentina -- has failed to convince, despite having his chances and has been shipped off to Zenit St Petersburg in Russia. It is a shame for the Argentine, who was highly rated, but it goes to show just how underwhelming he was given that a 19-year-old Albanian is ahead of him in the pecking order in Atletico's eyes.
Rafael Santos Borre has joined River Plate, while the disappointing Luciano Vietto will be shipped out before the deadline closes as Los Rojiblancos prepare to tackle the first half of the league season as they are, before welcoming Vitolo and potentially Diego Costa into the squad for the business end.
As the club have done with buyout clauses for the likes of Antoine Griezmann (€200 million until Jan. 1, then euro;100m), Koke (€150m) and Saul Niguez in recent months, Los Colchoneros now need to tie goalkeeper Jan Oblak down to a new deal and -- more importantly -- increase his release clause with Paris Saint-Germain said to be sniffing round the Slovenian.
It currently stands at 100 million, but with the way the market is going and the Parisian side's financial clout, Atleti need to look after their business interests in addition to rewarding the player for a stellar couple of seasons in the Spanish capital. The same goes for Gimenez, who has just entered the final 12 months of his current deal and would potentially be able to negotiate a move away from the Wanda Metropolitano at the turn of the year.
Atleti chief Miguel Angel Gil Marin admitted last week that the club are keen to make another signing and with Costa determined to force his exit from Chelsea, there are those in Madrid confident a deal can be struck before the September deadline.
With Atleti anxious to tie Simeone down to a new, improved, longer contract -- his current deal expires at the end of the coming season -- the signing of Costa, in addition to tying down Oblak and Gimenez would go a long way to helping convince their inspirational coach to stick around and show he truly believes he meant what he said when he stated there is no limit to his side.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.