In the end it was a thoroughly disappointing evening for Manchester United although it is difficult to imagine that, even if their name had been engraved on the Uefa Super Cup, we would have seen a giddy Wayne Rooney pretending to slurp champagne from the trophy or Sir Alex Ferguson doing that uncoordinated little hop, skip and jump that he reserves for the genuinely important occasions.
All week United have been insisting that they would treat this game with deadly seriousness but they did not look too distraught at the final whistle, just faintly irritated after a night in which the European Cup and Premier League winners got going only after falling two goals behind and suddenly realising that they were in danger of being outplayed. Nemanja Vidic's scrambled goal gave them hope of rescuing the game but, even then, it was not one of those rapid-fire onslaughts that are often witnessed when United need a goal and the night ended in ignominious fashion for Paul Scholes after he had punched the ball into the net and was sent off for his second yellow card.
At 33 Scholes should really know better. He had been booked towards the end of the first half for the type of late, scything challenge that has become as much his trademark as his beautifully measured passes and runs into the penalty area. Although some of his team-mates brazenly tried to celebrate his "goal", it was a moment of silliness which brought him his third red card in Europe in three years, his punishment this time being to miss United's opening Champions League game, at home to Villarreal on September 17.
In theory that should not matter too much and United should have plenty in reserve to come through a relatively moderate opening assignment in their defence of the trophy. But Scholes's indiscretion was fitting for an evening when too many of Ferguson's players seemed distracted or to care little about the possibility of adding another trophy to the club collection.
The night had begun badly for Ferguson when he tripped over one of the television wires on his way to the dugout and, for one horrible moment, seemed set to take out his embarrassment on the unsuspecting chap who was reeling it in. Some of his players seemed unsure of their step too, in particular Gary Neville, who was frequently caught out of position until he was replaced with 15 minutes to go. The evening of extravagant, attacking football that Ferguson had predicted certainly never materialised and there were long spells when United were slow to the ball and short of ideas in attack.
Carlos Tevez was the exception, playing indefatigably, yet this is a strange time for Rooney, who had another peripheral game. Moreover Nani flickered only sporadically and, not for the first time, it is easy to understand why Ferguson is so keen to bring in Dimitar Berbatov.
Ferguson talked of conceding "really soft goals" and was particularly annoyed about the way Zenit went ahead from a corner at the end of the first half. Alejandro Domínguez whipped in his cross from the left, Igor Denisov exposed Patrice Evra's lack of inches by getting the first flick and the ball was looping into the goal even before Pavel Pogrebnyak got ahead of Scholes to apply the final touch at the far post. It was a question of which player wanted to get there first and the fact that no one in a red shirt reacted was typical, perhaps, of their overall performance.
Zenit's second goal was another poor one from a United perspective, incorporating a long goal-kick, ball-watching from Rio Ferdinand and a glimpse of why the Uefa Cup holders were willing to pay £24m to recruit the Portugal international midfielder Danny from Dynamo Moscow. Danny's run was fast and incisive, finishing crisply past Edwin van der Sar, but Ferguson was taken aback by how Ferdinand failed to anticipate the danger.
This was the point when United finally sparked into life. Until then they had threatened Zenit's goal only once, when Rooney wasted a great chance after a magnificent Tevez run. But in their first concerted spell of second-half pressure they started to open up the Russians' defence, culminating in Rooney crossing to the far post for Tevez to turn the ball into the path of Vidic, who scored with a low shot through a clutch of defenders.
After that there were chances for the substitutes John O'Shea and Park Ji-sung to equalise but Danny, the game's outstanding performer, should have made it 3-1 when he ran clear on goal again and, high in the stands, Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich could be seen cheering the Russian success.
News source: Guardian.co.uk
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