SINGAPORE - For a club which has amassed a record 13 English Premier League titles and has one of the biggest fan bases in the world, fourth place is the most realistic finish Manchester United can aim for this season.
That is the prediction of former striker Andy Cole, who scored 93 goals in 195 appearances for the Red Devils from 1995 to 2001.
"Manchester United have to finish in the top four. They need to have Champions League football to attract players," he said on Thursday (Nov 1) on the sidelines of a press conference to promote the JSSL Singapore sevens, a youth football tournament at the Padang in April.
Although United are eighth in the table with 17 points after 10 games, nine points behind leaders Manchester City, Cole feels that Jose Mourinho's men have what it takes to turn the corner quickly.
The 47-year-old explained: "Football is a curious game. If you look at the way Arsenal started this season, they lost their first two games (2-0 to City and 3-2 to Chelsea) and now they have gone 13 games unbeaten.
"That is what can happen in football. If United can turn it around, go on a nice little run and steadily climb the table, that's going to change opinions."
To do that, the former England striker said United must regain their confidence, which he feels is lacking in the forwards - Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
Although the quartet have combined for 10 goals in 10 EPL matches (Lukaku four goals, Martial four, Rashford and Sanchez one apiece) and it does not look too shabby when compared to the 13-goal haul from Liverpool's trio of Sadio Mane (six), Mohamed Salah (five) and Roberto Firmino (two), there is no doubt they are performing below their lofty standards.
While Martial has now scored four in his last three games, Lukaku is suffering from a nine-game drought and Sanchez has netted just four times since his transfer to United in January.
But Cole believes all that could change in a flash.
He said: "If you are lacking in confidence, you will struggle. From the outside looking in, that's what it looks like to me. If one of them can score a scruffy goal, they will be up and running again. It's just a matter of time.
"If you look at Lukaku last season, he was scoring goals. But, if you watched him recently, they are struggling for a little bit of confidence, that little bit of luck that you need as a centre-forward. You are going to have those (dry) runs in football, especially as a centre-forward."
The 1993-94 Golden Boot winner and Young Player of the Year won five Premier League titles, the FA Cup twice and the 1999 Champions League.
And he stands third in the top flight's all-time scorers' list with 187 strikes, behind Alan Shearer (260) and Wayne Rooney (208).
But Cole also showed another side of himself when he gave an emotional interview published in British newspaper The Guardian last Friday, speaking candidly about his life-saving kidney transplant 18 months ago and his battle with depression.
He said: "I convinced myself (to give that interview). I realised when you go through something like that, people don't actually understand what you are going through.
"It's difficult to quantify what goes on inside your body or how you feel emotionally. I need to get it off my chest, to speak about what this operation (has) done for me - mentally, physically, emotionally... Everything rolled into one.
"Since I've done it (the interview), the reaction is fantastic. People who revere me can see I can be as ill as someone else. Their voice might not be heard like my voice has been heard. It does make me feel very positive in moving forward.
"I'm looking forward to the future, life is not going to stand still for anybody."