'The fear factor has gone' - Gary Neville offers grim assessment of Man United ahead of busy Christmas period
Gary Neville believes Manchester United are in a state of limbo as the future of manager Jose Mourinho continues to be a topic of intense debate.
United's under-pressure manager has struggled to get his team moving forward this season, with Old Trafford great Neville admitting it has been painful to see his former club struggling.
United are already too far behind local rivals Man City to get back into the title race and face a fight to secure a top four finish after a series of setbacks in recent months, with Neville struggling to offer up an optimistic vision of the future under Mourinho.
"The problem they've got now is it feels like they are stuck, in the sense they are getting through games, scraping through, the football is suffering at the moment and the atmosphere in the ground is suffering," Neville told Sky Sports.
"I don't think it's a lack of effort or application, it's just this moment in time their confidence, belief and maturity is not there. They are just crawling at the moment from game to game, you don't get that sense they can't wait for the next match.
"The form is not good, belief is not good and I don't know how you come out of that other than hard work.
"I've never known lacking in confidence and belief to go away from anything other than with hard work and preparing the best you can every day and knowing the talent within the squad will come out of it.
"At the moment, this is a prolonged period of sluggishness and it has to come to an end. It's getting the players, manager and fans down. That club is about dreams, magic and at the moment it does not feel like that."
United defender Luke Shaw suggested in a recent interview that opposition teams were no longer intimidated by the prospect of a game at Old Trafford, with Neville admitting that that confession is "painful" to hear.
"The fear factor has gone from Old Trafford, absolutely, but when your own players are actually saying it, it's like an admission of guilt. When a player says that, what he is basically saying is he and his team-mates do not bring any level of trepidation to their opponents on the pitch at Old Trafford - that's an admission of guilt in my mind.
"The coaching staff and players are the only ones who can correct that. The only way in which you get a fear factor in a ground is by amassing result after result, clean sheet after clean sheet, goal after goal and doing it over a long period of time.
"You take away any confidence and belief a team can come and win, it's damaged before they get on the pitch."