Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid are in Singapore for their second time. The first, in May 2013, saw them face a Singapore Selection XI, comfortably seeing them out via Raul Garcia and Diego Costa goals in a 2-0 win.
That was a post-season friendly, however, and the ultimate definition of a forced club engagement just five days after their victorious Copa del Rey final. The friendly, though, was the Peter Lim Charity Cup - the Lim that bought Valencia in October 2014 - with proceeds going towards the Singapore Olympic Foundation. All parties won that year.
Does that bode well for Atletico this season?
Expectations are rising, especially in the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid. Simeone, in a press conference on Wednesday, was keen to reign them in and remain grounded.
“It is difficult to think about the future. We hope to remain competitive from August 6th and we will go forward from there day-to-day. We prefer to focus and plan on the start,” he said. “For us, the most important game on the opening day is Atletico vs Valencia.”
A starless squad
The Argentine arrives in Singapore with a squad lacking World Cup stars, as are most top clubs across Europe - instead bringing a squad consisting primarily of youngsters, with few recognised names and missing the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Costa.
But Simeone sees it as a necessary absence, rather than a hinderance to his pre-season preparations.
“We understand how important it is to rest, and we will not give any excuses. They will always give everything they have. It is also an opportunity for the young players to begin and feel how it is to compete with the first-team.”
The aim of the International Champions Cup
In comparison to Arsenal, Atletico’s goals for the ICC are much more modest, given their squad strength. The tournament is not their goal, but the beginning of the path towards their season’s aims.
It is why Simeone is content to be in Singapore, but is not placing a lot of emphasis on a pre-season tournament.
“We are happy to be back, but tired as we just arrived. It is a nice tournament and we work to be in these kind of tournaments," explained Simeone. "We are content to be facing Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal. Our main goal is to play well tomorrow and not take any risks.”
Transfers were part of the focus, with the signing of Gelson Martins announced by the club just an hour prior to the press conference. The Argentine was visibly delighted by the news and has high hopes that the winger will provide a key impact on the right flank.
On the rumours linking Diego Godin with a move to Juventus, however, Simeone was clearly not as happy. "It is normal that the best teams want the best footballers," he explained in an attempt to remain evasive. "I am not surprised at all."
Atletico's new era
All in all, this pre-season is more about experimentation and practice rather than a first-team run-out.
The club have come a far way since 2013, trying down coveted stars Griezmann and Jan Oblak to new contracts, with the new arrivals of Thomas Lemar, Rodri and Gelson indicative of the a renewal of the old guard.
Coupled with the new Wanda Metropolitano, it feels like a new era. Simeone has a big season ahead of him, and it all kicks off tomorrow.