A night when Manchester United got a bit above themselves. Cristiano Ronaldo was introduced as the best footballer in the world when he appeared on the pitch with his Ballon d'Or, the trophy for Europe's finest. Then, when his team-mates were striding around the place like schoolyard bullies, they forgot about defending and somehow never quite remembered. Villarreal's 2-0 defeat in Glasgow makes the dropped points academic – United progress as group winners once again – but Aalborg left Manchester jubilant and rarely in a six-week period have a United side conceded so many soft goals.
The memories of the May night in northern Italy, last year, when Milan taught United a lesson in their own footballing mortality in a Champions League semi-final, seemed a lifetime past as United rolled into action again. They had not lost in Europe since and went into last night's game seeking to equal the longest unbeaten run in the Champions League's 16-year history. Only Ajax and Bayern Munich had the 19-game unbeaten record United were seeking. The way that the Danes set about doing something about that record suggested some bunch of imposters had blundered into the wrong stadium. Champions of Denmark, perhaps, but not remotely in this league.
It took United approximately two minutes and 40 seconds and four impeccable touches to tear them assunder, Ryan Giggs lofting a ball to Wayne Rooney, taking his headed ball back and hoisting a ball through with the outside of his right foot which Carlos Tevez ran through to deposit for his seventh goal of the season. It was second only to Ronaldo and not bad for a player who's warmed the bench nine times this season, his advisers still to agree that £32m permanent deal with United. Left-back Michael Jakobsen was wearing white gloves but for 20 minutes at least he needed a white flag as Aalborg's rickety defensive edifice looked like it might give way entirely. Jakobsen's loose pass, 20 yards from his own goal, was seized upon by Anderson, whose ball to Rooney was despatched on to Tevez. Clear on goal again, he hit his shot wide.
Even Gary Neville was trying out the backheels which have become an increasing part of United's creative currency in the months he has struggled back to the fringes of the side but Giggs was at the hub. His one-two with Nani had the Portuguese clear but the touch he took with his thigh took the ball out of his control.
Then, the calamities. There had been a few hints that the young United players Ferguson had put his faith in – this was a side missing Ronaldo and Dimitar Berbatov with Saturday's trip to White Hart Lane in mind – were not to go entirely untested. Darron Gibson and the generally assured Jonny Evans were left for dead on each of the flanks. But Aalborg's equaliser was as defensively disappointing as it was unexpected, the entire rearguard neglecting to spot Jakobsen's left to right run across he box which saw him deposit Anders Due's free kick in off the back of his head. Tomasz Kuszczak got a touch but managed only to push the ball into the net. Aalborg were heartened. Rio Ferdinand dumped Marek Saganowski to the floor and Due's arced left-foot free-kick forced Kuszczak to dive and palm away.
Then, seconds after John O'Shea had seen a shot cleared off the line by the conspicuous Jakobsen, Gibson offered a painfully loose pass to Due who was granted a yard's space by Ferdinand to loft a ball across to Jeppe Curth who was again left free to head past Kuszczak.
United set about business after the break in a manner which suggested Aalborg's fun had been only a minor intermission. Tevez somehow managed to nod wide a cross Nani put over for him and then Anderson's left-foot pass from 30 yards out bisected the defence, Rooney chasing on to it to thump in an equaliser before Jakobsen could place his challenge. Curth was booked for a lunge at Tevez but Rooney was lucky to escape the referee's book for another of his tetchy displays. He lunged at Martin Pedersen and swung an arm at Thomas Augustinussen during a running battle with the tall striker.
Scholes' arrival took him to 104 Champions League appearances, more than any Englishman, and his influence was as palpable as ever, as he lofted deep passes left and right.
But frustration reined. A low ball by Nani somehow evaded the arriving boot of substitute Ji-Sung Park and Gary Neville thumped the pitch in frustration after firing over from a few yards after chesting a lofted Rooney pass beyond Jakobsen and racing in on keeper Karim Zaza. Tevez then somehow managed to deposit Rooney's through-ball into the side-netting.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Neville (Rafael, 76), Ferdinand, Evans, O'Shea; Gibson (Scholes h-t), Giggs (Park h-t), Anderson, Nani; Tevez, Rooney. Substitutes not used: Foster (gk), Vidic, Fletcher, Possebon
Aalborg (4-5-1) Zaza; Bogelund, Olfers, Jakobsen, Pedersen (Sorensen, 76); Curth (Caca, 74), Enevoldsen, Augustinussen, Risgard, Due (Kristensen, 65); Saganowski. Substitutes not used: Stenild (gk), Nomvethe, Braemer, Schwartz.
Referee: L Duhamel (France).