Not even the return of Cristiano Ronaldo could prevent Manchester United fluffing their lines as the Champions League winners began the defence of their crown with a disappointing draw against Villarreal.
Ronaldo returns but United fire blank
MANCHESTER // Not even the return of Cristiano Ronaldo could prevent Manchester United fluffing their lines as the Champions League winners began the defence of their crown with a disappointing draw against Villarreal at Old Trafford. 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.
But United could come no closer than a late Jonny Evans diving header that bounced back off a post as their 12-game winning streak on home soil in the competition was brought to an end, the Yellow Submarines almost sinking Sir Alex Ferguson's men altogether when Guille Franco hit the woodwork as well. 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, 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. Aside from one powerfully struck effort from an acute angle by Robert Pires which Edwin van der Sar saved easily enough anyway, 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 Owen Hargreaves curled over a corner that Diego Lopez completely misjudged to leave Rio 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, a rare talking point in the goalless stalemate.
Group E Celtic 0 AaB Aalborg 0 Man Utd 0 Villarreal 0 Group F Lyon 2 Fiorentina 2 Steaua Bucharest 0 Bayern Munich 1 Group G Dynamo Kiev 1 Arsenal 1 Porto 3 Fenerbahce 1 Group H Juventus 1 Zenit St Petersburg 0 Real Madrid 2 BATE Borisov 0 *PA Sport