United boast some of the world's best attacking talent, with Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria and Juan Mata at Louis van Gaal's disposal.
But they have struggled defensively - conceding 13 goals in nine league fixtures this season - highlighted by a stunning 5-3 capitulation at Leicester City last month.
The centre-back pairing of Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo faired a little better against league leaders Chelsea last week as United salvaged a last-gasp 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
With a mouth-watering Manchester derby set for Sunday, Cole - a five-time Premier League winner at Old Trafford - believes United can return to the top if they fix their defensive issues.
"I think the way Manchester United are now, they're very attack-minded," Cole told Perform.
"A lot of the players are attack-minded - want to score goals.
"I think at times we've conceded some silly goals, but I think if you patch up all those problems, Man United will be a force."
Sunday's trip to the defending champions provides Van Gaal's men with another stern test after a seemingly favourable opening to their 2014-15 campaign.
But United, who are four points adrift of City after Manuel Pellegrini's men lost at West Ham, will be boosted by the return of captain Rooney following a three-game suspension.
"He's a quality player, he's the captain of the team now," said Cole.
"When you're missing a player of his quality through suspension, you're going to miss him.
"So hopefully he'll slot back in and give Man United a big boost."
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.