Yet the reality is Jose Mourinho’s men are well off the pace set by Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and a cluster of other elite European clubs.
The 2-1 defeat to City three weeks ago served as a reminder of just how far United’s “noisy neighbours” have progressed under their Spanish gaffer.
And it outlined some of the deficiencies in Mourinho’s squad, particularly in the absence of club-record signing Paul Pogba.
United’s Carabao Cup exit at the hands of Championship outfit Bristol City added to doubts about whether Mourinho has enough quality as his disposal.
Express Sport is on hand to bring you a run down of who Mourinho should target during the January transfer window – as well as the men that need to be ushered towards the Old Trafford exit door.
What do Manchester United need in January?
Pogba’s suspension-enforced absence against City showed United are short of dynamic midfield options, with a Kevin De Bruyne-type much needed.
Romelu Lukaku’s toothless period, coupled with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s veteran status, indicates United require another central striker too.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s just not cut it enough on a regular basis either, so a No 10 should be on Mourinho’s shopping list.
Who should Manchester United sign in January?
Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke has been on the radar of top clubs for years and at 25 is mature enough to make the move to England.
With Antoine Griezmann looking set for Barcelona, Mariano would offer an alternative to Lukaku and Ibrahimovic after lighting up Ligue 1 with Lyon this season.
Mourinho knows all about Mesut Ozil having coached the Arsenal contract rebel at Real and he could be available for a cut-price fee – a la Robin van Persie in 2012.
Who will Manchester United probably sign in January?
United rarely do business during the January transfer window, with the best players usually unavailable and prices bumped up.
Mourinho could make use of the loan market as Sir Alex Ferguson did with Henrik Larsson, but don’t bet on any big-money incomings.
United have been linked with Schalke ace Leon Goretzkka and have the option of securing his services for next term with a pre-contract agreement.
Expect the Red Devils to add a 15-year-old wonderkid to their ranks as they continue their drive to bring the world’s top young talent to Carrington.
Will Manchester United lose anyone in January?
United are a status club who only ‘lose’ top talent to the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
David de Gea has been coveted by the La Liga giants for some time but there’s no chance he’ll leave in January.
Mourinho will listen to offers for dead wood though, just as he did with Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay last winter.
Who do Manchester United need to get rid of in January?
We could be here a while…
Technically Daley Blind is a fine footballer but he’s just not cut out for the pace, hustle and bustle of the Premier League.
Matteo Darmian simply isn’t up to scratch and it’s a surprise Mourinho didn’t get rid of the Italian when he succeeded Louis van Gaal.
Marouane Fellaini is a Mourinho-type player but his lack of finesse and ongoing contract wrangle should see him sold.
Mkhitaryan’s relationship with Mourinho is poor and he may need a move to kickstart what was shaping up to be an excellent career.
James Wilson is never going to make the grade at United and should seal a switch to a Championship side.
Axel Tuanzebe needs a loan move to get the Premier League game time his immense potential warrants.