By Alasdair Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) - Two years after going looking for the style to match their success, Juventus are back where they started.
Massimiliano Allegri was re-appointed for a second spell in Turin on Friday after enjoying a two-year sabbatical since his departure in 2019.
The Italian's five seasons at the helm from 2014 to 2019 brought five league titles, four Coppa Italia wins and two runners-up finishes in the Champions League.
But Juve decided after winning the 2018-19 Scudetto at a canter that it was time to evolve from Allegri’s effective but often unattractive football towards a more progressive style.
Nobody anticipated what happened next.
Maurizio Sarri’s appointment as Allegri’s successor brought a mixed response.
The Napoli side he coached from 2015 to 2018 played dazzling football and pushed Juve close for the title in 2017-18, finishing second with 91 points.
But he was not a popular character among many Juve fans having spent years stoking the Napoli-Juve rivalry, including flashing a middle finger at Bianconeri supporters during his time in the southern Italian city.
He led the club to a ninth league title in a row but that was regarded as the minimum expectation, and his side were unimpressive champions; the first Serie A winners in 16 years not to score the most or concede the fewest goals in the division.
Sarri struggled to revolutionise Allegri’s pragmatic team into a free-flowing force – no easy task – and when his side suffered a last-16 Champions League defeat by Olympique Lyonnais, he was gone.
Nobody saw Andrea Pirlo’s appointment coming. He had no prior coaching experience and had not even achieved all his qualifications when he got the job.
It was an astonishing gamble for a club that had established a reputation for its organisational prowess, but Chief Football Officer Fabio Paratici described Pirlo as "destined for greatness".
Less than a year later, they have both left the club, with confirmation of Paratici's departure coming the day before that of Pirlo.
The former Italy and Juventus midfielder could not settle on a formation or line-up for long periods during a season in which Juve never topped the table and suffered shock losses to the likes of Benevento and Fiorentina.
The 42-year-old enjoyed some success, lifting the Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup.
But, as Sarri found with his title win, the demands in Turin are very high and after another last-16 Champions League exit to Porto, scraping into the top four on the final day of the season was unlikely to be enough to keep him in a job.
Allegri’s reappointment did not come as a huge surprise. He was linked with a return to Juventus, where he has maintained good relationships with the club, throughout the season.
The question of what happens now is an intriguing one.
Will Allegri's return, and Antonio Conte's Inter Milan exit, spark an immediate return to the top for Juve next season?
Have his methods changed after two years out of the game? Will he play more expansive football this time around?
Reasserting domestic dominance will be top of the agenda, and Conte's contract termination at the newly-crowned champions is likely to help Juve's cause.
But the club's ultimate goal remains Champions League glory.
That was what they signed Cristiano Ronaldo for in 2018, and if the Portuguese stays for the final year of his contract, next season will be the last opportunity for a Ronaldo-inspired European charge.
That seems a distant possibility at the moment. In the two years since Allegri left, Juventus have regressed from dominant champions to top-four battlers.
For now, success trumps style again.
(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie, editing by Ed Osmond)