(Reuters) - As a player Andrea Pirlo rarely put a foot wrong in a glittering career but as a coach the jury is still very much out on the Juventus manager after his side suffered a defeat to Inter Milan on Sunday that leaves them fifth in the Serie A standings.
Chasing a 10th successive Scudetto, Juve are seven points adrift of leaders AC Milan, with Milan looking to go 10 clear with victory at Cagliari on Monday.
In his first season as a senior coach, things have not gone to plan for Pirlo. After Sunday's 2-0 'Derby of Italy' defeat, this is the first season since 2010-11 that Juventus have picked up fewer than 10 victories in their first 17 league matches.
Pirlo's predecessor Maurizio Sarri's Juve side were nine points better off at the same stage last season, with a Serie A title at the end of the campaign still not enough to save Sarri from the sack.
Pirlo's side have shown promise this season, with a 3-1 win over Milan at the San Siro two weeks ago inflicting a first league defeat on the leaders, but Juventus were comfortably second best on their return to the San Siro to take on Inter.
Italian daily newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport gave Pirlo a rating of 4.5 in their Monday review of the Inter match, as low as any player, as a result of Juve's "sterile" possession play.
The away side did enjoy more of the ball, but created little with it, as Inter earned a victory over Juve in a league match without conceding for the first time since April 2010.
"Juventus switched off for the whole game and I think that's the most worrying thing," former Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero told Sky Sport Italia.
"It happened in the past too. They may give away the first half, but Juventus would always manage to recover in the second half."
However, these are still early days for 41-year-old rookie coach Pirlo, who is likely to be afforded more time than Sarri given his iconic status at the club where he won four titles in four seasons as a player.
But with the gap widening at the top, Pirlo is going to have to oversee some lasting improvement sooner rather than later.
"At the beginning it's normal to have difficulties, even if you've played at very high levels. Being a coach is a completely different thing," Italy coach Roberto Mancini said of Pirlo on Italian TV programme La Domenica Sportiva after Sunday's match.
"Slowly you learn, you get better. Everything is quite normal to start a little slower, even if you are lucky enough to start with top-level teams."
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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