Manchester United put together a brilliant 58 minute performance with an unconventional team on Tuesday, but they're heading out of the UEFA Champions League. A red card to Nani was the turning point in their match against Real Madrid, who have progressed with a 2-1 win on the night and a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Madrid were very left-leaning to start the match, choosing to attack down the flank with Rafael and Ryan Giggs. Ultimately, they would find that tactic to be unsuccessful as Giggs put in an excellent first half performance. Madrid had a couple of early half chances, but Manchester United looked like the more lively team from the 15th minute until halftime.
The first signs of a potential United goal came in the 15th minute, when Robin van Persie took an excellent touch and played a through ball to Danny Welbeck. Some brilliant defending by Raphäel Varane prevented him from going anywhere, and van Persie was unable to connect on a cross by Giggs shortly afterwards.
Giggs continued to do hard work down the flank and did well to win a corner in the 20th minute. His in-swinging delivery found the head of Nemanja Vidic, but the big defender's header smacked off the post. As the Red Devils scrambled in an attempt to poke in the rebound, Welbeck was flagged for offside.
Five minutes later, Welbeck showed off his top-notch speed again, while van Persie did the same with his technical skill. Once again, van Persie played Welbeck in on goal, but his shot deflected out for a corner. Giggs played in a great delivery again, but van Persie missed a chance to put a shot on target.
In the 34th minute, Diego Lopez was forced into a massive double save, though the second save was only required because of his inability to punch clear on the first. He didn't make his best effort at punching away a shot at van Persie, allowing Welbeck a chance at a follow-up. Unlike the first shot, Welbeck's wasn't right at him, but he made an excellent reaction save.
Just before halftime, Angel Di Maria picked up an injury, dealing a blow to Madrid's hopes of scoring an opening goal. He was replaced by Kaka, who barely had a minute to get his feet wet in the game before the referee blew his whistle to send the teams to their changing rooms.
It took just three minutes of play in the second half for United to turn their momentum into a goal. An absolutely bonkers spell of play in the Real Madrid penalty area saw both van Persie and Welbeck have shots blocked before the ball deflected out wide to Nani. It appeared that the danger had passed, but Nani did excellently to beat Varane and play a square ball back across the face of goal. It appeared to take a slight deflection, throwing off Sergio Ramos, who inadvertently poked the ball into his own net.
Madrid seemed a bit light on ideas after that, while Madrid looked comfortable for 10 minutes. That was, until referee Cuneyt Cakir, correctly or incorrectly, altered the game significantly. On a 50-50 challenge, Nani put his boot up high in an attempt to bring down a ball. Alvaro Arbeloa arrived a bit late, and Nani's boot ended up in the stomach of Arbeloa. The referee saw Nani's challenge as a dangerous one, and showed the United winger a straight red card.
The visitors reacted by bringing on Luka Modric for Arbeloa looked like the superior side almost instantly. They nearly equalized in the 62nd minute, when Rafael blocked a header by Gonzalo Higuain off the line, and they didn't have to wait much longer to find their goal.
Modric, a relative flop in a Merengues shirt up until this weekend's win over Barcelona, endeared himself to the Madrid faithful with an absolutely stunning goal to pull his side level on the night and in the tie. After a long exchange of passes 30 yards away from goal, he dribbled with purpose to his right before unloading on a banana shot to the near post. David De Gea couldn't get across in time as the ball deflected off the inside of the post and in, leveling the tie at 2-2.
Ronaldo, playing at Old Trafford for the first time since leaving United, poked in the equalizer just three minutes later. Higuain and Mesut Özil set up the chance, playing a beautiful one-two exchange on the right side of the penalty area before Higuain whipped a cross to the far post that Ronaldo got on the end of.
Undeterred, Manchester United pressed on with 10 men and looked close to getting back into the tie on multiple occasions. Unfortunately for the home supporters, they failed to hit the back of the net on all of them. A Welbeck shot appeared to hit the arm of Ramos in the 76th minute, but the referee waived play on. In the 84th minute, Lopez was forced into a double save on a header by Michael Carrick and a follow-up effort by van Persie.
Madrid had plenty more chances as well, with De Gea forced to make saves on shots by Ronaldo and Kaka late. In the dying minutes of the match, Lopez came up big again, knocking away a Vidic header off a brilliant corner by van Persie, preserving his team's victory and their place in the Champions League quarterfinals.