Diego Simeone's side began the new season with a resounding 6-1 thrashing of Granada at the Wanda Metropolitano but, after being shut out in midweek by Huesca, they failed to fire in attack once again.
Not even Luis Suarez could inspire Atleti on his first home start, the Uruguayan unable to affect proceedings in the same way he did when introduced off the bench in that stunning opening win.
Suarez - who scored twice in a 20-minute cameo against Granada following his move from Barcelona - struggled to make an impact before making way for Diego Costa, part of a triple substitution by Simeone in the 70th minute.
Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente were also introduced, yet a determined Villarreal stood firm through to the final whistle, picking up a useful point that sends them top of the table in the embryonic stages of the 2020-21 campaign.
Atletico had failed to trouble Sergio Asenjo in the away goal during a tepid first half that saw them on top without truly threatening, Suarez having two of their six off-target attempts before the break.
Indeed, the visitors had the only chance of note in the opening 45 minutes, Mario Gaspar's rising attempt from outside the penalty area forcing Jan Oblak to tip the ball over his crossbar.
Villarreal's captain was again denied by the Atletico goalkeeper soon after the interval, this time with a low shot that was parried away by Oblak, while Gerard Moreno had a glorious late chance to secure victory for Unai Emery and his team.
Picked out by substitute Samuel Chukwueze, the Spain international caught his volleyed attempt cleanly but sent it narrowly wide, one of few opportunities in a game that will not live long in the memory for those who witnessed it.
What does it mean? Atleti's lack of cutting edge a concern
The rout of Granada quickly raised expectations that the shackles could be cut free, but the arrival of Suarez was never going to see Simeone suddenly change his approach.
Still, if Atletico want to challenge for the trophy in LaLiga, rather than just be content with another top-four finish, they must avoid too many more results like this on home turf.
Despite having 13 attempts, none were on target. Their best effort was actually an inaccurate cross, sent in by full-back Renan Lodi.
No repeat from Suarez
The striker not only managed a double but also provided an assist in the rout of Granada. However, he was a passenger here against Villarreal, having just 24 total touches before his departure when his side were still looking to break the deadlock.
Emery makes his point
Villarreal were thrashed on their previous away outing, going down 4-0 at Barcelona. Yet that result has been the outlier, rather than the norm, at the start of Emery's reign. The midfield screened their defensive colleagues superbly, Dani Parejo showing his willingness to do the dirty work by making five tackles.
Key Opta facts
- Atletico have drawn 0-0 in two of their first three LaLiga games for the first time in the competition's history.
- Atletico have failed to record a single shot on target in a LaLiga game for the fourth time under Simeone - this was the first time at the Wanda Metropolitano. Since 2004-05, Los Colchoneros had never ended a LaLiga home game without hitting the target before Saturday.
- This is the 30th goalless LaLiga game for Atletico since Simeone took charge, more than any other coach in the team's history.
- Emery has failed to win in any of his nine LaLiga games against Atletico (D5 L4) since Simeone took over, with his team failing to score in seven of them, including the past five.
- The last time Atletico tied goalless in two successive LaLiga games was in October 2019 against Real Madrid and Real Valladolid.
Domestic duties are put on hold as international football takes centre stage. Atleti's next outing is against Celta Vigo, quickly followed by a huge Champions League clash with Bayern Munich in Germany. As for Villarreal, they will play host to local rivals Valencia.