Villarreal has returned to haunt Manchester United as they walk out of Old Trafford with a goalless draw in their opening Champions League group game.
The much awaited return of United’s prodigal son, Cristiano Ronaldo, was delayed till second half and he did not disappoint the fans with his 25 minute cameo. He looked a bit rusty but he managed to bring hope to the United fans who gave him a such rousing welcome that searched in vain for a red carpet. His immediate signature step-over move showed he meant business.
After the match, Sir Alex Ferguson insisted that there were plenty of positives to take from United’s performance against Villarreal on Wednesday night, even though the Reds failed to find the back of the net.
“I think we played some good football," he commented.
"The lads expressed themselves and enjoyed themselves and played with a great deal of commitment. Considering three or four players were playing their first real game of the season I think we can take heart from that performance. We were unlucky not to win it."
Earlier, Sir Alex Ferguson picked a completely different team from the last Anfield disaster and made six changes to the side, including surprise selection of young Jonny Evans, in place of Nemanja Vidic who is ruled out of the next match against Chelsea.
United dominated the first half with a performance of verve, commitment, and less grandeur as their waves of attack failed to breach the Villarreal defence who held their own with hard work and some luck.
Ji-Sung Park, Nani and Darren Fletcher made most of the opportunity provided to them by some scintillating display of skills.
The energetic Park was excellent with his incursions and should have been rewarded with two penalties which were surprisingly turned down by German referee W. Stark.
First, Sebastien Eguren stood on the Korean's foot in the box and then Joan Capdevila mistimed a challenge and brought him down.
Nani, meanwhile, was at his best on the flanks , sort of Cristiano Ronaldo Mini-me. He caused regular alarm down Villarreal's left flank with his runs and crosses. His dipping shot from out of the box was fumbled badly by Villarreal ‘keeper Diego Lopez.
At the centre of it all stood Fletcher. United’s leading goal scorer this season, displayed maturity with a sense of purpose, drive and penetration for his team. He kept the midfield ticking over sweetly with deft passes and switching the plays quickly without fuss.
The 20-year-old Northern Irishman Jonny Evans was making his second start in the Champions League. He combined with Ferdinand in forming a barrier that Villarreal rarely threatened. Evans almost headed United home off Ronaldo’s deflection to Nani’s cross in the dying moments.
Forwards Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney combined well and displayed great skill and maturity but were unable to find the back of the net. Ronaldo made an exquisite pass to Rooney who, in turn, fed the Argentine striker, who saw his effort cleared off the line by industrious Gonzalo Rodriguez.
Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini's ambition seemed to be to stonewall United by keeping his players almost exclusively behind the ball. This was more than understandable.
The Chilean coach appreciated that a point at the home of European champions would represent an outstanding start to this Group E campaign.
Villarreal fashioned the best move of the match and almost took the lead after 59 minutes when Franco flicked Angel Lopez's cross against the post with United keeper Edwin van der Sar beaten.
Overall, it was a disappointing stale home draw for United but the positives drawn from the game were immense as United seemed to have gained back their lost swagger and confidence, in addition to Ronaldo’s much awaited return.