Friday, 29 August 2008

UEFA SuperCup, 29 August 2008

The curtain comes down on UEFA's jolly in Monaco with the Super Cup between Manchester United and Zenit St Petersburg.

Both teams fielded a strong line-up, Man Utd's probably as strong as it can be with their current injury worries, and Zenit had Arshavin on the bench ahead of his possible (probable?) move to Tottenham.

Zenit had much the better of the first half, creating the best chances and shutting out Manchester United well, who looked toothless up front - lots of industry from Tevez and Rooney, but little class - they look shorn of creativity up front, and much in need of a player like Berbatov, especially with Ronaldo still injured and Nani's final ball leaving a lot to be desried.

Zenit made their advantage count right at the end, when poor marking from a corner allowed Pogrebnyak to bundle the ball in. It was no less than Zenit deserved, Man Utd being vunerable at the back throughout the half, Gary Neville in particular looking hopelessly out of form. Zenit's goal brought out the flares amongst the Zenit fans, which the commentators like to tut about, but must secretly love given the dramatic effect it creates in the stand. Later in the match, the Zenit fans also demonstrated their ability to bounce in unison, much like they did in Manchester, as they turned their end into one big pogo party. It was also noticable that there were some empty spaces in the Man Utd end, which I thought was strange given the apparent desirability of the venue and the availability of cheap flights to Nice.

Zenit brought Arshavin into the game for the second half, in what could turn out to be his farewell performance for the club. However, it was the player that could turn out to be his replacement, Danny, signed for £25 million, who got Zenit's second after the hour with a fine run from the half-way line and well taken shot, which highlighted Man Utd's defensive frailties as Rio Ferdinand backed off rather than attempting to tackle. Vidic pulled a goal back from United after a corner following good work by Tevez to control a ball that landed at his feet after somewhat of a scramble and lay it off for Vidic to bundle home. Danny should have put the game beyond United late on when he shot over when it seemed easier to put his chance in the net. Paul Scholes saw red on 90 minues when he handled a cross into the net quite blatantly, which will see him suspended from his next Champions League match. Zenit saw out the remaining few minutes to become the first Russian team to win the competition, and it's hard to argue that it wasn't deserved.

Andy Townsend said at half time that Man Utd didn't seem to be trying to hard, but I think he was being kind to them. There was no cohesion to the side, but it appeared to me that was down to poor form rather than not putting 100% into the game. There appeared to be plenty of endeavour without much reward. United did step up the pace after Zenit's secon, but it's always difficult to tell if that's because they had more in the tank, or because Zenit were holding back to protect their lead.

So is the competition worth it? United may see it as a worthwhile excercise to put off a league game until later in the season when they're not firing on all cylinders. I doubt the "big" European teams are that bothered with it, unless they actually win it. For Zenit, it's a chance to prove themselves against one of the top sides in Europe. Ultimately the winning club will probably view the match as more worthwhile, but most people can see it's worth, mainly as an advert for UEFA and a chance for some corporate hob-knobbing, as if more was needed in the modern game.

Manchester United still have much work to do if they are to retain their league and European titles; Zenit showed on tonight's performance that they should be a force to be reckoned with in this season's Champion's League.

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