Luka Modric had a shot blocked before Thibaut Courtois was called into action to tip Arnaut Danjuma's low shot around the post. Courtois also saved from Paco Alcacer -- and Nacho had a penalty appeal for a challenge by Raul Albiol waved away -- before Danjuma went close again, shooting off target as Villarreal ended the first half on top.
After the interval, Eder Militao and Karim Benzema both put headers wide, although the France forward was in an offside position. Courtois saved again from Danjuma, and then Pau Torres couldn't convert at the far post after Alcacer's hooked effort had the goalkeeper beaten. Substitute Isco went close with a header, and Nacho made a crucial challenge to deny Ruben Pena, as the game ended goalless.
David Alaba's transition from new arrival to leader of the defence has been impressively swift and seamless. There's no doubt he's the main man at the back now, whether he's picking up the ball and spraying long passes or, more importantly, dictating when the defence should play a high line or when it should drop deeper. Partner Militao benefits from his direction, too.
This was often a frustrating night for Real Madrid and the fans, but at least the team seized the initiative once Villarreal had decided to sit back and look to settle for a point. They just weren't able to create enough clear chances to break the deadlock.
Much of Carlo Ancelotti's focus this season has been on the need to improve Real Madrid's play when out of possession. This game demonstrated just how much work is still to be done. Villarreal's smooth midfield pairing of Dani Parejo and Etienne Capoue dominated the middle of the pitch -- an area where Madrid missed Toni Kroos -- while pacey widemen Yeremi Pino and Danjuma were a threat.
While both men were picked on merit given recent performances, Vinicius and Rodrygo don't always work hard enough off the ball. That seriously inhibits Madrid's ability to press effectively and in a coordinated fashion from the front.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Carlo Ancelotti sprung one surprise in his starting XI, opting for Fede Valverde at right-back rather than Lucas Vazquez or Nacho, who moved to the left as a more defensive alternative to youngster Miguel Gutierrez. Otherwise, the coach's biggest selection call was leaving Eden Hazard out of the team for the second game in a row.
A disappointing first-half performance was met with a half-time change, Eduardo Camavinga replacing Rodrygo, as Madrid improved before Ancelotti introduced Eden Hazard and then Isco. Arguably both of those latter changes could have come a little sooner, while it was hard to understand why Luka Jovic wasn't thrown on while chasing a goal.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 8 -- Got down brilliantly to deny Danjuma with 12 minutes gone, and later saved from Alcacer. Kept Danjuma at bay again in the second half.
DF Federico Valverde, 7 -- Picked at right-back ahead of Lucas Vazquez. Contributed in attack but didn't have it easy in defence and was beaten comfortably by Danjuma in the first half. Shot well over the bar before halftime.
DF Eder Militao, 7 -- Put a great chance to score wide with his head in the second half. Was in the right position when Courtois' save from Danjuma could have fallen to Alcacer.
DF David Alaba, 8 -- Very important to this team already. His long-range passing already looks to be a useful attacking weapon and his reading of the game is second to none, as was demonstrated in one second-half moment when he stepped up, won the ball and released Vinicius for a quick counterattack.
DF Nacho, 7 -- Another switch across the defence, from right to left. Was convinced he should have had a penalty in the first half for Albiol's challenge, and made a vital late intervention to prevent Madrid going behind.
MF Marco Asensio, 6 -- Feeling confident after his midweek hat trick, taking any opportunity to get a shot away at goal, but this was much less impressive. Moved from midfield to wide right at halftime to accommodate Camavinga.
MF Casemiro, 7 -- Visibly irritated by some of his teammates' failure to track back during the first half. Worked incredibly hard himself to compensate.
MF Luka Modric, 6 -- Back in after a rest against Mallorca. One vintage outside-of-the-boot pass into the box for Rodrygo in the first half, but otherwise not quite at his best.
FW Rodrygo, 5 -- One nice bit of play to beat his man and cross for Benzema early on. Otherwise struggled to make an impact and was taken off at half-time.
FW Karim Benzema, 6 -- Unusually quiet and unable to add to his eight goals and seven assists in six games before Saturday night.
FW Vinicius Junior, 6 -- Picked up a first-half booking for dissent as the team got frustrated. Had his moments, but much less effective than he has been this season.
MF Eduardo Camavinga, TK -- Came on at halftime. Another lively, energetic performance.
FW Eden Hazard, N/R -- Replaced Modric. One nice, twisting run down the left was reminiscent of the Hazard of old. Crossed for Isco to head on target.
MF Isco, N/R -- Played the last 10 minutes. Tested keeper Geronimo Rulli with an uncharacteristic header.