For Atletico Madrid, the fact they were even invited to take part in the Audi Cup was a sign of how far they have come in recent years, so taking the trophy home with them was a bigger deal than it may at first seem, even if this was just a pre-season tournament.
To line up alongside Champions League-calibre clubs like Napoli, Liverpool and Bayern Munich and to come out on top can only be a positive, not least because they did so with two encouraging performances.
While they struggled to keep pace with Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli in the first half of the 2-1 semi-final victory, Los Rojiblancos were able to dig deep and to keep themselves in the game, which was impressive considering this was just their second match of pre-season.
They improved as they got into their groove and progressed thanks to goals from Fernando Torres and Luciano Vietto, setting up a date with Liverpool the following day.
Against the Reds, Los Colchoneros played even better and kept Klopp’s free-flowing attack in check, all without Diego Godin, who was suspended after being shown a red card the previous evening.
In fact, Atletico were without most of their starters for that clash with the English side, with Simeone having left Antoine Griezmann, Gabi, Filipe Luis, Koke, Carrasco and Jan Oblak out of the starting lineup.
In their stead, a number of the fringe members of the squad stepped up and this was the most encouraging aspect of the whole trip.
The impressive defensive and creative contributions from Thomas Partey, the solidity of Jose Maria Gimenez and Lucas Hernandez and the return of Augusto Fernandez will all have given the sweaty Diego Simeone reason to smile as he prepares for a season in which he cannot add any new players until January.
Keidi Bare was another one given a rare opportunity to start for Atleti and he rewarded his coach with a goal, another personally and collectively reassuring development.
By the time the final went to penalties, following Roberto Firmino’s 82nd minute spot-kick equaliser, Simeone had already gathered all the necessary data, but the fact his team were then able to overcome their shootout demons of Milan in scoring every single attempt was a potentially significant confidence booster.
Doing it in the Allianz Arena – one of the most feared stadiums in Europe, but one which was somewhat emasculated for a couple of days by festival atmosphere of Mexican waves and the reduced number of intimidating Bayern fans – could prove similarly useful if the capital city side have to return to Bavaria during the coming Champions League campaign.
“Atletico wanted to win the cup and we did too, but we also wanted to play football and Atletico only wanted to win the cup,” Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said after Wednesday’s match, not at all subtly criticising Simeone’s tactics.
Yet there should be no shame in having tried as hard as possible to come out on top.
That’s what Atletico must do in the 2017/18 season and they’re now in the winning mind-set following this week’s exploits.
Perhaps that can help them to hit the ground running this season, in the way they weren’t able to last year.
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