Jose Mourinho endured a turbulent start to the season, however he has since steadied the ship, and his side are undefeated in their past 13 Premier League games.
The Portuguese tactician's summer signings have had mixed success, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been in scintillating form, rattling home 14 goals in England's top flight.
United are currently four points off the top four, and while Ferdinand claims he is not surprised where they are, he thinks the three aforementioned stars will play a crucial role in determining whether they achieve their aim.
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Rio Ferdinand thinks Manchester United are where they expect them to be
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been in exceptional form for Manchester United
They are three players who can take the club forward but there is still work to be done
"I think they are where I expected them to be – maybe I thought they would be in the top four but they are not far from where I thought," Ferdinand said.
"I thought the job was that big.
“A lot will determine on the players they bought in, like [Paul] Pogba, Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] who has been phenomenal and [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan, who is starting to show what he can do.
"They are three players who can take the club forward but there is still work to be done. United need to finish in the top four this season, but it will be difficult. It is tight there, They are fighting with Liverpool and City.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has come into his own in the past few weeks
“I hope they finish in the top four. But it is so difficult. United have not lost in 17 games but have drawn a lot.
"I would rather lose a few and get wins, in terms of points. That has been the frustrating thing."
United will shift their focus to the FA Cup on Sunday (4pm) when they face Wigan.