Villarreal CF and Manchester United FC booked their places in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages after an eventful game provided everything but a goal – making it four 0-0 draws between these sides in as many meetings.
The sides had already assured their places atop Group E bar an unlikely combination of results, and although they eliminated any doubts at El Madrigal, the scoreline belied a game not lacking in attacking intention, with Cristiano Ronaldo putting in a scintillating performance. The Portuguese international came closest to breaking the deadlock when he hit the bar with a lovely first-half volley and showed creative intelligence for 90 minutes, harrying the Villarreal defence until left-back Joan Capdevila was shown a straight red card for a rash tackle with eight minutes left.
The first-half pace had been ferocious as Ronaldo applied huge amounts of verve and enthusiasm to his work, looking nothing like a man whose participation had been in doubt due to a minor leg injury. As Villarreal stuck to their methodical trademark of accurate passing, the European champions quickly drove the ball high up the pitch whenever possible as Ronaldo and Nani stalked the touchlines. It was an effective tactic, particularly with the visitors' defence comfortable containing former team-mate Giuseppe Rossi and Ariel Ibagaza.
Rossi and Santi Cazorla had fierce shots on target while Anderson did likewise at the other end as the teams jockeyed for supremacy. United keeper Tomasz Kuszczak's occasional fumbles exhibited some nerves, but it was opposite number Diego López that owed most to a stroke of good fortune five minutes before half-time, and it was inevitably Ronaldo that caused the scare. That the United No7 was playing so well and Javi Venta and Sebastián Eguren both picked up first-half yellow cards was no coincidence, each presenting opportunities for the winger to show his set-piece expertise. His first free-kick caused little trouble but his next brought a tremendous save from López, who had been well beaten when Ronaldo's technically-brilliant volley ricocheted off the crossbar moments earlier.
United's talismanic winger picked up where he had left off after the restart, firing in a hard, low drive that López fumbled but, first to the rebound, Wayne Rooney could not profit. Such was Ronaldo's threat that Villarreal increasingly used three men to close him down, allowing Darren Fletcher space to shoot narrowly wide, while Anderson twice forced stops from López. United were in total control, and midway through the second period Rooney got in on the act, volleying against López's arms from point-blank range.
Rooney was in the thick of the action again soon after, waltzing down the left wing and sending in a deflected shot that was looping into the net before Capdevila intervened to divert it over the bar. It was where the defender's luck ran out, however, as he was soon given his marching orders, meaning he will miss the trip to Celtic FC on Matchday 6. Top of Group E on goal difference, United host Aalborg BK knowing they will qualify as section winners if they match the Spanish side's scoreline.