In the grim years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, it has been easy to write off Manchester United's malaise as a hangover. A blip. A temporary fault to be fixed before normal service is resumed.
The reality is that United are entering their eighth season since Ferguson's departure and still look as far away from winning the Premier League title as ever.
'Crazier things have happened,' said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Friday, perhaps not realising how that would come across. The prospect of Manchester United being champions of England should never be crazy.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer claimed Manchester United winning the league this year sounds 'crazy'
After a short but turbulent summer, Paul Pogba and Co have started the season miserably
Even during the post-Fergie slump, however, opening day has always given United fans a degree of hope and optimism.
They went out against Crystal Palace on Saturday seeking a club-record sixth straight win at the start of a top-flight season. It usually takes a while for harsh reality to kick in and the club's title hopes to fade.
In that sense, the 3-1 defeat by Palace was different. It was United's worst opening-day result since losing by the same score at Aston Villa 25 years ago when Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen famously declared that Ferguson would win nothing with kids and was proved spectacularly wrong.
The Red Devils were beaten 3-1 on the opening day by Crystal Palace in a dismal display
Will Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team confound their critics? They are certainly better than this defeat would suggest, but the gulf between Liverpool and Manchester City seems just as wide as before.
At this rate, United will once again be among the also-rans battling for a top-four place.
There is still time to get the season back on track but Solskjaer must resolve a number of issues.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
United have been frustrated over new signings with just two weeks to go until the transfer window closes.
They have allowed themselves to become embroiled in a war of attrition with Borussia Dortmund over Jadon Sancho and lost out to Tottenham for Gareth Bale and Sergio Reguilon.
It is another sign that United no longer have the pulling power to attract the world's best players, nor the financial might in an economic market ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
United CEO Ed Woodward (top) has missed out on some key transfer targets this summer
Writing in Saturday's match programme, United chief Ed Woodward admitted: 'Disruption from the pandemic is continuing to create huge economic pressures from top to bottom of the football pyramid and, while we are fortunate to be in a more resilient position than most clubs, we are not immune from the impact.'
There is no doubt that Woodward has backed his managers: a net investment of £900m since Ferguson retired and £240m under Solskjaer alone following the £40m purchase of Donny van de Beek from Ajax.
But United need more investment before the window closes. A right-sided forward and left-back are the priorities, and a new centre-back would not go amiss either.
Does the lack of transfers show Manchester United do not have the pulling power to sign stars?
When United beat Palace 2-0 at Selhurst Park on July 16, they were on the crest of the wave. The form team since restart, Solskjaer's side were unbeaten in 19 games, through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and one of the favourites to win the Europa League.
Three days later, United went out of the cup to Chelsea at Wembley. Although they clinched a top-four place on the final day of the season, another semi-final defeat followed to Sevilla in the Europa League. 'A bitter end', Solskjaer called it.
Manchester United were on cloud nine when they beat Palace in July - now they're in a crisis
No sooner had the players departed for a brief break than captain Harry Maguire was arrested on holiday in Greece, Mason Greenwood was sent home from Iceland in disgrace following his senior debut for England and Paul Pogba contracted coronavirus.
Combined with United's frustration in the transfer market, the feelgood factor built up for much of 2020 dissipated over the course of two months and Saturday's defeat has only added to the gloom.
It's been a tricky summer for Man United, not helped by Harry Maguire's troubles in