Spain striker Paco Alcácer eventually did open the deadlock for the visitors, tapping home from close range just after halftime.
A superb volleyed equalizer from Brazilian left-back Alex Telles leveled the scores, before — as he’s done countless times before — Ronaldo rifled home from inside the box to rescue Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Having lost its opening group match of this season’s competition at Young Boys in Switzerland, it was an even more important victory for the three-time Champions League winners.
After saving his side’s blushes, Ronaldo admitted that the game was a “struggle.”
“But we had a little bit of luck as well, that we didn’t have in the last game. It was good. It was good. A great attitude from our players, the fans pushed us a lot. After the Telles goal, we believed, we believed. Because here, in this stadium, the history that this club has, it is possible to do it. We believed. I said to the players in the tunnel before the second half that we should believe.”
On what was a record-breaking night for Ronaldo, it seemed only fitting that he’d score in dramatic fashion to steal the headlines.
Ronaldo is already the record scorer in the Champions League, with his goal on Wednesday taking his tally to 136, with Lionel Messi second on 121 goals.
However, it didn’t start well for the English giants against Villarreal, as Unai Emery’s side started well on top.
Through the pace and slick passing of Alcácer and Arnaut Danjuma, Villarreal caused United no end of problems and was left scratching its head at how it didn’t score in the first half.
But the breakthrough came just eight minutes after the halftime break, Alcácer poking home from Danjuma’s low cross.
The goal seemed to ignite the home side into action, needing a sweetly struck volley from Telles to level the score on the hour mark.
And with the game looking like it might fizzle out to a disappointing draw for Manchester United — after Edinson Cavani squandered a glorious chance to win the game — up popped Ronaldo.
A deft touch from Jesse Lingard laid the ball to Ronaldo and, at an acute angle and with Villarreal goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli off his line, the veteran forward manager to blast the ball home to salvage three points.
“Sometimes, it is not about ‘pass there, pass there,’ it is the crowd — and they have sucked it in before — and when you have Cristiano on the pitch, you always have a chance. He is so good in front of goal and he has an impact on everyone.”