It should have been one of those nights when Sir Alex Ferguson basked in the glory of his team being European champions and mopped up another early-season trophy, but it ended as a bit of a disaster. Ambushed by the daring, attacking football of Zenit St Petersburg the embarrassment was compounded when Paul Scholes was sent off for a daft handball which earns him a Champions League suspension.
Scholes has scored a few opportunistic goals in his time but none quite as sly as the one he punched into the net in the closing minutes as United chased an equaliser in the European Super Cup final. It was the hand-of-God treatment from the Diego Maradona of Middleton (north Manchester) and he was never likely to get away with it. The way United are playing they will certainly miss their 33-year-old playmaker when they face Villarreal at home on 17 September.
There are plenty more problems for Ferguson as the end of the transfer window looms on Monday night. He would not even discuss the transfer of Dimitar Berbatov – "I've been with the team all day, I don't know what's going on" – who is becoming more crucial to United with every game. Last night Nemanja Vidic got their solitary goal, only their third in three games. The other two have been scored by Darren Fletcher – it is not exactly a cause for optimism for Ferguson's new-look front line.
Even with Andrei Arshavin on the substitutes' bench in the first half, United found themselves run ragged by Zenit and when the Russian international came on after the break it got even worse. The first goal from Roman Pogrebnyak came direct from a corner, then the Portuguese striker Danny, Zenit's £24m new signing, sauntered through the United defence to score the second. The arrivistes of Russian football thoroughly deserved this victory.
Even Ferguson agreed with that although he said his team played better at two goals down and chasing the match. "The sending off was an instinctive thing," Ferguson said. "The fact he [Scholes] had been booked before meant he had to go. At that point we were looking pretty strong. We understand that he misses the first Champions League game and that is unfortunate."
More unfortunate is the failure of Wayne Rooney to find his stride again. Carlos Tevez looked razor-sharp at times but Rooney is not making nearly as much of a nuisance of himself to defenders as the Argentine striker. It can only be a matter of time until Ferguson re-considers the 4-4-2 formation which he promised to play for Rooney's benefit. The introduction of Arshavin in the second half showed how destructive a direct, quick player can be coming in from the left.
Having not made it to Wigan to watch Chelsea on Saturday, Roman Abramovich's super-sized yacht Pelorus has been in the bay here. The billionaire watched the game in the company of Guus Hiddink, whose role as Russia coach evidently involves talking his paymaster through the game's intricacies.
All through the game Zenit's support, easily outnumbering United's, behaved as if they had just been let out from behind the iron curtain. There was singing, then jeering, every time United were in possession which happened less and less before Zenit took the lead moments before half-time.
Quite simply United were overpowered at a Zenit corner. Alejandro Dominguez's cross was flicked on by Igor Denisov and Edwin Van der Sar, already committed, could get nowhere near the ball. Under the bar Pogrebnyak forced it home.
Life did not get better for United after the break, with Arshavin on as a substitute. Drifting to the left wing his speed proved dispiriting for Gary Neville who started to look all of his 33 years. Wes Brown was on in his place with 15 minutes left.
Zenit's second goal was humiliating for United. Goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev's long kick to Pogrebnyak was directed to Danny, who ran at goal from deep in the United half. Ferdinand delayed his tackle as Danny's run took him into the area where he put a shot inside Van der Sar's near post. On 73 minutes Rooney collected a short corner and picked out Tevez at the back post. He cut it back to Vidic who scored from close range. Scholes' red card was his third in the last three years of European football and by now he should know better.
Goals: Pogrebnyak (45) 0-1; Danny (59) 0-2; Vidic (72) 1-2.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville (Brown 75), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher (Park 60), Scholes, Anderson (O'Shea 60), Nani; Tevez, Rooney. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Gibson, Campb ell, Possebon.
Zenit St Petersburg (4-1-3-1-1): Malafeev; Anyukov, Puygrenier (Shirokov 65), Krizanac (Radimov 70), Sirl; Tymoshchuk; Dominguez (Arshavin 46), Zyryanov, Danny; Denisov; Pogrebnyak. Substitutes not used: Contofalsky (gk), Kim Dong Jin, Tekke, Fayzulin.
Referee: C Larsen (Denmark)
Booked: Scholes, Anderson, Tevez. Sent-off: Scholes.
Man of the match: Danny.
Attendance: 18,500.Reuse content