Paul Scholes has written off any hopes Manchester United have of winning the Premier League while backing Wayne Rooney as the club's new captain.
Scholes believes missing out on players including Toni Kroos and Cesc Fabregas have dented United's title aspirations and has doubts over the immediate impact Ander Hererra and Luke Shaw could make.
Writing for the Independent, Scholes said his former club still lacked a midfielder while extolling the influence new manager Louis van Gaal - "a mad genius " - will wield at Old Trafford.
"For all the benefit I believe Van Gaal will bring to United in the long term, I find it hard to see them as Premier League title contenders this season," Scholes observes.
"My instinct is that the title will be between Manchester City and Chelsea, with United, Liverpool and Arsenal in competition for the two remaining Champions League places."
Describing the David Moyes-era at United as a "disaster", Scholes, who made 499 appearances for the Red Devils and won 66 England caps, said early signs were that United would bounce back from their seventh place finish last season.
Discussing van Gaal's 3-5-2 formation, the 39-year-old said: "It is the Dutch way, they create an extra man in midfield. With his 3-5-2 formation at United, Van Gaal is doing something similar. Watching United against Real Madrid this month I found myself asking, "How is it United seem to have so many men on the pitch?" It is easy to read too much into pre-season but the early signs have been positive."
His major concern, Scholes said, was the fitness of United's likely three central defenders Johnny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
He said the failure to sign Thomas Vermaelen will put pressure on the trio to remain fit throughout a whole season, playing in a postion where injuries are common.
Much was made in the summer of Scholes' comments in a column for bookmaker Paddy Power regarding Wayne Rooney, but the 11-time league title winner said his thoughts were misrepresented.
Clarifying his comments, Scholes said England were wasting Rooney's talents by playing him on the wing while supporting van Gaal's decision to hand the striker the captain's armband at United.