(Reuters) - A trophyless 2021-22 campaign set the alarm bells ringing at Juventus and despite an encouraging start to their rebuild with the capture of some marquee names, the 36-times Serie A champions could face a challenging road ahead.
The return of Massimiliano Allegri as Andrea Pirlo's replacement had raised hopes of success last season but the Italian manager, who guided Juve to five successive titles in his first spell from 2014-2019, failed to turn things around and they finished fourth.
Allegri's defensive-minded approach did not go down well with fans, who were also frustrated that the team faltered during games they had been dominating.
Victories in the Italian Cup and Super Cup finals would have papered over the cracks but Juve fell short in both, prompting the club to go in for a reset ahead of the new season which begins with the visit of Sassuolo on Aug. 15.
With Paulo Dybala heading to AS Roma, Juve re-signed French World Cup-winner Paul Pogba on a free transfer after his exit from Manchester United as well as Argentine Angel Di Maria following the end his spell with Paris St Germain.
But while Juve's attack takes shape they face a tough task to replace the talismanic Giorgio Chiellini and fellow central defender Matthijs De Ligt, who left for Los Angeles FC and Bayern Munich respectively.
Allegri said in May that even big clubs like Juve could have bad seasons and that while they ended the campaign without a trophy for the first time since 2010-11 he was happy with their overall progress.
But he must quickly work out a way to get them firing on all cylinders to avoid a third straight season outside the top three after league triumphs in the previous nine.
Their pre-season form suggests Juve are far from being the finished product, with a 2-0 win over Guadalajara and a 2-2 draw with Barcelona followed by a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid and a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Atletico Madrid.
"We have quality and the possibility of starting the league well, but we have to tighten up, add a nasty streak to our game. This defeat will do us good," Allegri said after the Atletico game.
Juve will hope Pogba can spark them into life but they are sweating on the fitness of the midfielder, who reportedly opted not to undergo knee surgery and bank on rest and rehabilitation to get fit in time for the World Cup finals later this year.
Inter Milan and AC Milan both proved their title credentials in the last two seasons, but Juve's experience means they cannot be completely ruled out as contenders.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)