Jose Mourinho's arrival in the summer was seen as a guarantee of improved results at Old Trafford but we're currently three points behind last season's total at the same stage.
United sit five points off leaders City but, however, the attacking style of football- the half of the club's tradition that some feared Jose would fail to deliver- is beginning to re-emerge in a performance the boss described as our best of the season.
Wayne Rooney, on the bench for the second league game running, watched on as his team-mates prospered without him in the first half.
With Ander Herrera sitting deeper, Paul Pogba was free to push into an advanced role and his determination and vision set up Zlatan Ibrahimovic after only two minutes before the Frenchman slid a shot wide after another incisive move.
Pogba's enthusiasm occasionally got the better of him as he was tempted by increasingly ambitious long-range efforts but he kept demanding the ball and came within inches of a dramatic late winner.
His improvement continues but, for Rooney, the February 2014 decision to grant him a lucrative new £300,000 a week contract until the end of the 2018-19 season continues to come under increasing scrutiny.
When you cannot do what City, Everton, Spurs, Palace and Hull did to Stoke- beat them and beat them well, then you begin to realise that Jose Mourinho's United mission is harder than imagined.
That quintet smashed a total of 15 goals past Mark Hughes porous outfit putting the ex-Reds legend in the firing line as the first Premier League manager to be sacked.
After thumping Leicester in the previous league outing it looked like Mourinho's rebuild was gathering speed and intensity and Sparky might be on the look out for a new job as his Stoke side came under siege at Old Trafford.
An early goal would surely have seen the fragile visitors- without a win to their name (bar an EFL Cup success at Stevenage) crumble, but even shaky sides get a bit of adrenaline flowing when they survive a battering.
Had Zlatan Ibrahimovic tucked away his second minute chance at the far post, then the Reds would surely have gone on to win with ease but Lee Grant was inspired and prevented what threatened to be a Leicester-style avalanche.
Some of the Reds build up and attacking link play was the best seen at Old Trafford since the SAF days but a combination of wasteful finishing and Grant's heroics meant another rethink on the Reds progress under Mourinho.