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Why Real Madrid Could Have Beaten Manchester United Without Controversial Red

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 05:  Alvaro Arbeloa of Real Madrid reacts to the red card challenge from Nani during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford on March 5, 2013 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Samuel MarsdenFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2013

"Semana Grande" launched the headline on the front page of AS on Wednesday morning—What a week!

Marca were similarly lauding of Real Madrid, following an impeccable eight days that saw two wins against Barcelona followed up with Tuesday night's win in Manchester, leading with "Corazon De Campeon"—Heart of a champion.

But it can't be denied that those covers could have been less celebratory had the game not taken a dramatic turn in the second half.

Manchester United's Nani was dismissed shortly after the English side had taken the lead, his high boot deemed dangerous play by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir. Had the man in the middle not taken that decision, though—which was clearly a turning point—would La Decima still be on the cards for Jose Mourinho and his players?

The Portuguese coach would probably say "no." He wasted no time in telling TV cameras that the best team lost (via the BBC)—although he didn't go as far as to say what his thought's were on the red card.

That those were his thoughts, though, does not necessarily mean Los Blancos would have gone on to lose had the battle remained 11 vs. 11 at Old Trafford.

It was Mourinho's swift actions in the moment of Nani leaving the pitch that proved the ultimate tipping point. Luka Modric replaced Alvaro Arbeloa and instantly the little Croat set the tone for the next 10 minutes, which would see Madrid swoop into a 2-1 lead—Modric hammering in a wonderful first before playing a key pass in the buildup to Cristiano Ronaldo's winner.

Theoretically, with or without Nani, the introduction of the former Spurs man could have had the exact same effect. Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe wrote excellently about the job Sir Alex Ferguson employed Danny Welbeck to do on Xabi Alonso, and it was working perfectly. The introduction of Modric would have been likely to scupper that, decreasing Madrid's reliance on Alonso.

The only question is would he have been introduced so soon?

The current Spanish champions also had the misfiring Karim Benzema in reserve, should they have needed him.

Of course we will never know, but I would suggest the studs into Arbeloa's chest merely sped up the process, sped up Mourinho's substitutions and sped up Madrid's turnaround.

Manchester United had produced 60 minutes of work that must have been close to replicating every little detail of Sir Alex's game plan. But history suggests the last 30 minutes were never going to be easy for United, Mourinho has a habit of getting one over on Ferguson's sides—see Porto and Chelsea, if not Inter, as examples—and the pressure on Rio Ferdinand and Co. would have grown and grown.

Unfortunately we were deprived of the opportunity to see the exhilarating finish that was set to unfold. That's not the referee's fault, though, it's not his job to keep us entertained, but if he had have kept Nani on the pitch, the outcome could still have been a Madrid win.

It would be naive to completely dismiss that they wouldn't have scored, and once they had scored we could have seen the lack of concentration from United which followed the red card.

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