Manchester United and Villarreal have played each other five times in the past 16 years, but there has never been a winner in 90 or 120 minutes. It even took until the fifth meeting for a goal to be scored.
These two clubs now go head to head in the Champions League group stage this week and both sets of fans are owed a decent game of football to watch.
Until the 21st century, Villarreal had historically been a lower league club in Spain. Prior to 1992 they had only spent two seasons of their history as high as Spain’s second tier, otherwise yo-yoing between the third and fourth tiers from the 1950s through to the early 1990s.
They didn’t reach La Liga for the first time until 1998, but after consolidating their place in the top flight in the early 2000s quickly became a staple of European football.
The Yellow Submarine’s first ever European season took them to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in 2003/04, while United’s visit to El Madrigal in September 2005 was their ever Champions League match.
That meeting ended 0-0 and is probably most famous for Wayne Rooney getting on the wrong side of referee Kim Milton Nielsen, sarcastically clapping in the Dane’s face upon being shown a yellow card; the yellow was immediately flashed again and became red.
The reverse meeting at Old Trafford a couple of months later was also a 0-0 draw. Rooney was back from suspension and looked the United player most likely to make the breakthrough, but Villarreal earned plaudits for their resilience without star men Diego Forlan and Juan Roman Riquelme.
That game also took place only days after Roy Keane had left United under a cloud.
Those draws, combined with defeats against Lille and Benfica saw a United side in transition finish bottom of what should have been a favourable group. Manuel Pellegrini’s Villarreal, meanwhile, went all the way to the last four and only narrowly missed out on a place in the final as they were defeated by Arsenal.
It was three years later when United and Villarreal were paired in the same Champions League group again. United were reigning champions, but that didn’t change anything when they faced El Submarino Amarillo at Old Trafford to kick off the defence of their title.
United should have had a penalty, Villarreal hit the post and Cristiano Ronaldo appeared from the bench for his first appearance of the season after recovering from ankle surgery. But it was still 0-0.
A fourth consecutive 0-0 followed in November 2008, although it was enough for both clubs to progress to the Champions League knockout stages with a game to spare. With few chances it was described at the time as a ‘largely low-key European encounter’.
Fast forward to May 2021 and the Europa League final – the first United-Villarreal that yielded any goals. The English side were heavy favourites but it was the Spaniards who drew first blood, taking a first half lead through Gerard Moreno. That was their only shot on target in 120 minutes, including extra-time, while Edinson Cavani scored one of United’s only two to equalise.
The brief drama came in the penalty shootout when every player on the pitch except David de Gea scored from the spot in an 11-10 win for Villarreal, sealing their first meaningful European trophy – basically something that wasn’t the Intertoto Cup, which they lifted twice in the early 2000s.
Both sets of fans will hope for something more engaging and entertaining in a sixth meeting between the clubs this week, although the history doesn’t bode too well.