By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
They called him 'Lucky'. Luka Modric signed for Real Madrid just before the Spanish Supercopa against Barcelona in August and made a 10-minute cameo in the second leg as Jose Mourinho's men claimed the trophy, beating the Catalans at the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time in the Portuguese's reign. Modric earned a new nickname from his team-mates and, following a difficult six months in Spain since then, 'Lucky' Luka was back in business on Tuesday.
Manchester United dominated the sides' Champions League last 16 second-leg match for much of the first half and then took the lead through a Sergio Ramos own goal shortly into the second period. Moments later, however, the game was turned on its head by Nani's ridiculous red card. Madrid had a lifeline, Mourinho reacted and, having been set to send on striker Karim Benzema, he opted for Modric instead.
The Croat has been utilised in a number of different positions for Madrid, but has never been able to hold down a regular starting spot - either in midfield or further forward. His range of passing has had fans purring at times at the Bernabeu, yet his end product for Real has often been disappointing and his shooting sub-standard.
Modric had been on the pitch for less than 10 minutes when he produced the all-important equaliser, while his vision, guile and range of passing helped Madrid to overcome United's defensive wall - something the visitors had been unable to achieve against 11. Or without Luka, for that matter.
The Croat buzzed in the middle and brought added quality to Madrid's possession play when they needed it most. Before his introduction, United had been content to let Mourinho's men have the ball. But until Modric came on, they didn't seem to know what to do with it.
Mourinho admitted afterwards that his side had been second best, and they had indeed struggled against a United team sitting on their one-goal lead in the first period and attacking on the break. Sir Alex Ferguson was beating Madrid at their own game as Real, needing to score, seemed incapable of dictating the play.
Even Cristiano Ronaldo, who went on to score the second goal later on, was crowded out and after Ramos' own goal, Madrid looked to be on their way out of the competition.
Nani's dismissal gave them a chance, however, and thanks to Mourinho and to Modric, they took it. The Croat, who was also impressive in Madrid's Clasico win at home to Barcelona on Saturday, will have caught his coach's eye on Tuesday and presents himself as an interesting alternative in games where the rival team sit back and defend. For all their obvious qualities, Madrid are not designed to break down such systems, but to attack on the counter. Modric, however, brings a more subtle and creative approach and could be extremely useful against defensive sides in the remainder of the Champions League.
Modric can drop deep into midfield, play in a two or three between defence and attack or even as one of the forwards or the playmaker. The Croat credits his time on loan is Bosnia as key in his development, claiming he could play anywhere after that, and he seems to find spaces where there appear to be none. Harshly voted as La Liga's worst signing in a Marca survey last year, the former Tottenham midfielder came of age as a Madrid player on Tuesday and picked the best possible opportunity to justify his €42m fee as he helped to save his side's season with an epic intervention. No wonder they call him 'Lucky'.
Follow Ben Hayward on