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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Super Cup Result

United 1 Zenit St Petersburg 2
Stuart Mathieson
29/ 8/2008

FORGET the Super Cup in their return flight baggage United will be more concerned if the Reds secretly brought back a deal with Tottenham for Dimitar Berbatov.

100 nights after the Moscow extravaganza and United’s first European venture as champions was a letdown and at this early stage of the season they look like they may need a pep up from a new face once they get down to the serious business of retaining the Champions League trophy.

United only looked like they had a real appetite to win another Euro trophy on the night when the Russians were virtually out of sight.

It wasn’t a performance that was in keeping with all the pre-match vows of intent from the Old Trafford camp.

Owen Hargreaves’ pull out because of another recurrence of his tendonitis problem cost Sir Alex Ferguson one of his Moscow starters.

But he still chose seven players who had been in his first choice XI in Russia back in May.

It compared to the four players who started the 1999 final who also made the line-up for the Super Cup in Monaco the following season.

However, it is something of a myth that the Reds boss put out a weakened line up in the Principality against Lazio nine years ago.

Joining the quartet of Gary Neville, Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Andy Cole against the Italians were for example Nou Camp starting absentees European Cup winning scorers Ole Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Henning Berg and Phil Neville plus keeper Raimond Van der Gouw – hardly a powder puff choice!

Clearly it was more psychological than selection. The difference more likely in Fergie’s mind now was that this fixture was indeed a meaningful one and a trophy worth winning.

Back in ’99 there was the matter of a game against Newcastle in the Premiership 72 hours later. Clearly United didn’t expend too much energy against Lazio because they thrashed the Geordies 5-1 and Andy Cole scored four!

For their part Zenit St Petersburg had seven survivors from the team that beat Rangers 2-0 at Eastlands in the UEFA Cup final.

And being two-thirds of the way through their domestic campaign the Russians looked the snappier.

For United’s part they were a bit like the Champions League draw that had taken place in Monaco 24 hours earlier.

Plenty of glamour and glitz but not a great watch. Perhaps the message from Sir Alex Ferguson hadn’t got through that he wanted a record third Super Cup on his CV.

The Reds certainly need an injection of something different to pep up their attack. Carlos Tevez is a mini tornado around the pitch but was the only real spark about United.

His forward partner Wayne Rooney, meanwhile, was a picture of frustration as he verbally let fly at numerous poor crosses.

Zenit on the other hand had an urgency and a cutting edge about them that gave United’s defence a bigger headache than they had in any of their 13 European Cup matches last season.

Patrice Evra and Nani on the Reds left flank were continually out-foxed.

Rio Ferdinand had one dodgy moment that took you back a few years and Gary Neville was somewhat rusty in his defensive duties.

It was little surprise that the Russians finally made their mayhem pay.

A 44th minute corner saw Denisov flick a header backwards ahead of Evra and Neville and nobody was going to stop Pogrebnyak powering in to head home.

Not even 15 minutes of Fergie in the dressing room could alter United’s apparent hunger for this one.

Only Tevez was his usual stint and he was the European Champion’s top man by the length of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit.

Zenit exposed some pedestrian midfield work and non-committal defensive play after 59 minutes to score a second.

While United baulk at shelling out for Dimitar Berbatov Zenit showed the value of investing £24m in Portuguese international Danny.

The former Dinamo Moscow midfielder made the most of the space United allowed him and he attacked a back-pedalling Ferdinand before firing in a shot that zipped past Van der Sar.

The Reds were finally shaken into some meaningful action and Rooney turned a poor Nani corner into a chance by floating a cross to the far post where Tevez slipped a ball back for Vidic to force home.

United looked a lot better chasing it but they had given themselves too much to do.

The miserable evening got worse for United when Paul Scholes, having already got a yellow card, received a second for crazily punching the ball into the back of the net in the 89th minute and was sent off.