That the Europa League is seen as United's best route back to the Champions League only emphasises the depths to which Louis van Gaal's reign has plunged.
Against Danish minnows FC Midtjylland United were simply out of their league and Van Gaal looks increasingly out of his depth.
If not for the outstanding man of the match Sergio Romero - a late replacement for David De Gea - this tie would have been over and Midtjylland would have had a 4 or 5-1 lead.
Romero produced three stunning saves but goals from Pione Sisto and substitute Paul Onuachu secured a 2-1 win for the Danish side and a deserved lead going into next Thursday's second leg at Old Trafford.
Memphis Depay's first half strike had handed United an ill-deserved lead but the woes that plague this United side were all too evident once again.
And it speaks volumes of our domestic plight that Europe's secondary competition represents a better chance of returning to the Champions League than a top four finish.
That assumption now seems deeply flawed.
Even if we do manage to salvage the tie at home next week, we look ill-equipped to cope with even the most modest of opposition.
On this evidence, League One Shrewsbury will fancy their chances in the FA Cup on Monday, a competition that Van Gaal sees as a personal priority.
The Dutchman can point to a crippling injury list with Wayne Rooney and David De Gea the latest victims but the problems run deeper than that.
As a team, United have lost their ethos, identity, fear factor and way.
We are becoming easy pickings, whether it be relegation-threatened Sunderland last week or the minnows of Midtjylland whom have just come back off of a two-month break before the start of Denmark's new season.
That's exactly why, with every passing day, Shrewsbury can harbour genuine hopes of another giant-killing upset on Monday.
The question is: how long will it be before such results are treated as the norm rather than shocks?
Van Gaal has led United to this point, and as much as executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward wants to give the man he appointed time to rescue his tenure, time is surely running out.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League cost David Moyes his job nine months into a six-year contract.
LVG will almost certainly be judged by the same standards - and on a bitterly cold night on a Danish peninsula - times have rarely been bleaker.