Villarreal frustrate United
Man Utd began their Champions League campaign with a disappointing goalless draw with Villarreal.
Last Updated: 18/09/08 9:38am
Manchester United began the defence of their UEFA Champions League crown with a disappointing goalless draw against Villarreal at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
Rio Ferdinand came closest to breaking the deadlock in the first-half but could not steer his effort on goal when unmarked at the far post from an Owen Hargreaves' corner early on.
After the break, the visitors almost took a shock lead on 59 minutes through Guillermo Franco but he hit the right post with a back-heeled flick on from a cross from Angel Lopez on the right.
Carlos Tevez had a shot cleared off the line before Jonny Evans hit the post for United on 81 minutes when unmarked at the far post from a Cristiano Ronaldo cross from the right.
Ronaldo's second-half introduction certainly sent a surge through United and
dispelled any doubts the summer transfer saga with Real Madrid would affect his popularity.
With record signing Dimitar Berbatov failing to recover from the knee injury he sustained at Liverpool, Michael Carrick ruled out with an ankle problem and Paul Scholes suspended, a legacy of his needless dismissal against Zenit St
Petersburg in last month's Super Cup, Sir Alex Ferguson was committed to making changes.
Nevertheless, the presence of Gary Neville - his first competitive start since March 2007 - and Evans in the home defence was a surprise.
Not that the pair were extended much in the first period as aside from one powerfully struck effort from an acute angle by Robert Pires which Edwin Van der Sar saved easily enough, Villarreal created nothing.
In contrast, United threatened at regular intervals but through a combination of bad finishing, poor refereeing and excellent goalkeeping, failed to make the breakthrough by half-time.
The litany of woe began after just five minutes when Hargreaves curled over a corner that Diego Lopez completely misjudged to leave Ferdinand an empty net to steer the ball into.
Unfortunately for United, Ferdinand succeeded only in prodding the ball back in the general direction it had come from.
Then it was Wolfgang Stark's turn to fail. The German official may have been deceived by Park Ji-sung falling outside the area and then opting not to make any significant protest but there was no doubt Sebastian Eguren caught the South Korean inside the box and a penalty should have been given.
Park, who did not even make United's bench in Moscow, was a constant menace, as was Tevez.
The Argentina star may have got no marks for waving an imaginary yellow card in the direction of Eguren when he was hauled back near halfway but he came agonisingly close to scoring as his powerful drive was tipped away by Lopez.
Nani had a couple of long-range efforts and Darren Fletcher saw his header blocked at close range.
However, a goalless first half was not what Ferguson would have wanted as his team began the defence of their trophy and a quest to become the first side to win the competition - as the Champions League - in successive seasons.
The Scot resisted an obvious temptation to bring on Ronaldo at half-time. But some intricate passing involving Wayne Rooney and Fletcher, plus an up and under from Nani which Lopez collected with some difficulty, failed to convince the United boss a goal was going to come so, to huge cheers, Ronaldo was told to get stripped.
The winger was still waiting to be introduced when Villarreal almost hit their hosts with the ultimate sucker punch.
Finding space just outside the box, Angel Lopez crossed for Franco. The striker flicked the ball goalwards with the back of his heel and watched in agony as it bounced back off the post with a grateful Van der Sar gathering the rebound, knowing he would not have been able to do a thing to stop it going in.
With Ronaldo - and Anderson - on the field, United were transformed. From becoming increasingly sluggish, the Red Devils were suddenly full of life.
Evans headed wide, Lopez punched clear just as Tevez was about to connect with a Patrice Evra cross, then Gonzalo Rodriguez booted off the line as Tevez's bouncing shot was going in after Ronaldo had led a lightening break which also involved Rooney.
Ronaldo eventually managed a header that floated wide before Evans hit the post but it was a familiar tale of disappointment for the hosts in front of goal this season.
Ferguson will need no reminding the last time Villarreal gained a draw at Old Trafford, three years ago, United did not make it out of the group.
It is unlikely to happen again but as Chelsea are lying in wait on Sunday, they need some of those 42 goals Ronaldo scored last season.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Villarreal|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|4||Shots on Target||1|
|12||Shots off Target||3|