Fresher and more incisive throughout, Zenit took the lead when Pogrebnyak forced home a header from close range.
Playmaker Danny made it 2-0 with a fine solo goal on the hour, before Nemanja Vidic pulled one back from six yards.
It was too little too late, though, with Paul Scholes sent off late on in a lacklustre showing from United. Scholes saw the red card when he punched the ball into the net with only seconds left on the clock. He could not play against Villarreal in the start of the Champions League.
It was a sorry end to the match for United, who had looked off the pace throughout.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson:
"I think we played our best football at 2-0, unfortunately. It was a warm night and so I think my players did OK under the circuntances."
"I thought Tevez was outstanding - probably the best player on the park - and I thought we had the chances to do something in the game."
"But Zenit are a very good team and they have exceptional movement. They'll be a force in the Champions League playing like that."
Van der Sar, Neville (Brown 76), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Anderson (O'Shea 60), Nani, Scholes, Fletcher (Park 60), Rooney, Tevez.
Ref: Claus Bo Larsen (Denmark)
Man of the Match: Zenit's Pavel Pogrebnyak
Source: BBC Sports
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