They are a club built on a rich tradition of glorious, triumphant, cavalier football.
But at the start of one of the most important weeks of the season, Manchester United find themselves accused of betraying their heritage when it comes to facing their direct rivals.
Last Sunday, it was a 0-0 draw at Chelsea; this Sunday, they go to Manchester City.
By the end of it, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could be 18 points adrift of the leaders.
In seven games against other members of the established ‘Big Six’ this season, United have managed just one goal, and that came in a 6-1 defeat at home to Tottenham at the start of the campaign.
In the goalless, soulless draw at Stamford Bridge, United had just six shots – two of which were off target.
It means they now have failed to score home and away against Arsenal and Chelsea this season and not managed to find the back of the net against arch-rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.
On Wednesday they go to Crystal Palace and then it is the runaway leaders, with former striker Andy Cole claiming his old club cannot afford to draw another blank against a major rival.
“Manchester United can’t play like that,” said Cole yesterday, his pained expression and exasperated tone laying bare his frustration.
“It has to be a concern. If you think you can genuinely win the title or challenge for it, you have to score goals.
“Playing under Sir Alex Ferguson, the only thing he used to say to us was ‘Go out and enjoy yourselves and entertain’.
“That’s what United are supposed to do, you’re supposed to entertain. You have to show your opponents respect, but you can’t fear them.
“Everyone wants to be tight, of course. You don’t want to concede goals, goalkeepers buzz off that and so do defenders.
“But if you concede a goal and you’re scoring goals yourself, I don’t think anyone’s that fussed, because you’re playing the way United should play.
“If you look back, United’s history is about playing good football, trying to win games playing a certain way, not being tight at the back and trying to nick a 1-0 win.
“United cannot play like that, and when they’ve tried to, they’ve come unstuck.
“Let’s get this straight – if you’re ever going to win the league, you have to knock over the big teams as well. Draws aren’t going to do it.”
Cole, 49, who scored 121 goals in 275 games for United, said any title hopes the Reds had went with their shock home defeat to Sheffield United.
“I felt like I’d played in that game, I was so disappointed and upset,” said Cole, who also spent a season at City towards the end of his career.
“Then there was the draw at West Brom. If you’re going to win the title, you have to beat these teams, it’s as simple as that.
“If you can’t knock these teams over – which other teams are doing – can you really be looked at as title contenders? For me, no.
“City are top and are the best team for a reason. They deserve that fear factor, just for the way they play.
“I take my hat off to City’s players, Pep Guardiola and his staff for the way they’re playing and this incredible run they’re on.”