The “negativity” around Manchester United, with Jose Mourinho cutting a frustrated figure, has Rio Ferdinand fearing the “horrendous” prospect of a Premier League finish behind Liverpool and Manchester City.
The Red Devils finished as runners-up in 2017-18, with only the record-breaking efforts of arch-rivals at the Etihad Stadium keeping them from the summit.
Mourinho has, however, endured a quiet summer in the transfer market while seeing those around him embark on elaborate spending sprees, leaving the Portuguese cursing his luck and questions being asked of his relationship with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Ferdinand admits the outlook for United appears bleak before a ball has been kicked, with it looking likely that those at Old Trafford will take a backwards step in the upcoming campaign.
The former Red Devils defender told the Mirror: “There seems to be a lot of negativity around United at the moment, and that doesn’t bode well.
“The manager is obviously not happy about the signings he hasn’t been able to make and not having certain players available on their pre-season tour, which isn’t nice to hear if you are a young kid trying to make your mark on the fringes of the squad.
“He seems to have put a nail in that coffin with the way he has spoken.
“And then there has been the saga of Anthony Martial going home from the tour in America and not coming back.
“In the meantime, Manchester City look stronger than ever and Liverpool have improved again.
“They have brought in a £60 million goalkeeper, I think Naby Keita will make a great impact, we know of Xherdan Shaqiri’s quality, and they have added Fabinho to the mix as well.
“I’m a United fan, and I want to see them win the title, but I fear it’s going to be very difficult for that to happen this season.
“I can’t see past City and Liverpool as the top two — and to say that about the two clubs who wouldn’t be top of any United fan’s Christmas card list is horrendous.”
They may have fresh faces to introduce by the time that fixture rolls around, with the summer transfer window set to slam shut on Thursday.