Manchester United “have the same goals”, says Andy Cole, but the ability to challenge for the Premier League title has “gone away from them a little bit”.
The Red Devils captured the English top-flight crown on 13 occasions under Sir Alex Ferguson, with the last of those triumphs coming in the legendary Scot’s final season at the helm.
A humbling fall from grace has been endured at Old Trafford since then, with a runner-up finish under Jose Mourinho last term as close as they have come to restoring domestic dominance.
Even those efforts saw them finish well short of record-breaking neighbours Manchester City, with there clearly still plenty of work to done for a club that has stumbled backwards again in 2018-19.
Former Red Devils striker Cole told Sky Sports on the state of play heading into another Manchester derby on Sunday: "Manchester United still have the same goals. But we have got to be brutally honest, the league has changed again.
"Manchester United used to dominate, especially in the Premier League and won the FA Cup a few times.
"To a certain extent now it has gone away from them a little bit. Manchester City have invested heavily, changed manager, brought in a lot of good players and changed the way they play football.
"Last season they ran away with the league at a canter."
Cole added on the challenges facing United: "It is a case of getting some stability now and finding the formula whereby they can challenge Manchester City over the next couple of years.
"Manchester City are only going to get better. Liverpool and Chelsea are also only going to get better so the league will become as tight as ever."
United will face City this season sat nine points adrift of their old adversaries, but they did prove last season at the Etihad Stadium that they are more than a match for Pep Guardiola’s side – with Paul Pogba inspiring a dramatic 3-2 win.
Cole said of the Red Devils’ mindset heading into the latest instalment of a long-running rivalry: “Everyone has got to fear them but you can't fear them too much. Because if you are going to go into a match with that kind of attitude the game is going to be over before you play it.
“I know Manchester United will go into the game believing they can win it. A derby is a completely different game.”