SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid arrived in Singapore for a pre-season tournament missing a raft of first team players who were involved in the latter stages of the World Cup, but coach Diego Simeone believes their absence presents a chance for youngsters to shine.
Last season’s La Liga runners-up face Arsenal at the Singapore National Stadium on Thursday and Paris St Germain four days later with Simeone looking to get the best out of the 22 players who travelled to Asia for the three-team event.
“We understand how important it is for them to rest after the World Cup as we know it’s going to be a long season ahead,” the Argentine told reporters on Wednesday when asked how the side would cope without several of their best players.
“This is still pre-season and we are building towards full strength but we aim to do really well against Arsenal tomorrow.”
France’s World Cup winners Antoine Griezmann, Lucas Hernandez and new signing Thomas Lemar did not make the trip to Singapore, nor did Spanish internationals Koke and Diego Costa or Uruguayans Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.
“We will not make any excuses for not fielding a full-strength side here and the team we brought will give everything they have,” added Simeone.
“More importantly, the new guys will get an opportunity to play with the first team and understand what it means and what it is like to play for Atletico Madrid.”
He was also keen to point out that keeping hold of key players like striker Griezmann and goalkeeper Jan Oblak when they were constantly linked with moves away from the Spanish capital was a positive statement of intent for the club.
“No one can ask more of this team than us and it is an important achievement to get players like Griezmann and Oblak to commit their futures to the club,” he said.
“Their presence and the fact they decided to stay at Atletico is really significant.”
Simeone also played down Cristiano Ronaldo’s move from Real Madrid to Juventus as a boost for Atletico’s Spanish title credentials, instead saying the club’s relatively new stadium and improving squad proved how ambitious they were.
“The growth of the club itself can be seen by the strength of our squad,” he added. “The new stadium and investments will give our supporters a belief that we are positioning ourselves among the best sides in Europe and around the world.”
Reporting by John O'Brien; Editing by Ken Ferris