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By Iain Rogers
MADRID, March 6 (Reuters) - Jose Mourinho has been on the ropes at times this season as Real Madrid's La Liga title defence stumbled but the Portuguese coach delivered knockout blows to heavyweight opponents this week that kept the Spanish club's hopes of silverware very much alive.
Real have upped their game at exactly the right moment and Tuesday's 2-1 comeback victory at 10-man Manchester United sent them through to the last eight of the Champions League 3-2 on aggregate and put them a step closer to a 10th European crown.
Success at Old Trafford came hard on the heels of last Tuesday's 4-2 aggregate victory against Barcelona in the semi-finals of the King's Cup and Real followed that up with a 2-1 win at home to their arch rivals in La Liga on Saturday.
"Three victories, what a week!" Real's Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil wrote on his Twitter feed.
Real are 13 points behind leaders Barca in third in La Liga and have written off their chances of closing the gap over the remaining 12 matches, leaving Europe's elite club competition as the overwhelming priority.
Winning a third Champions League with a third different club is a personal obsession for Mourinho and it is widely thought that if Real lift the trophy at Wembley in May he will feel his job in Madrid is done and move on.
The 50-year-old former Chelsea manager left Inter Milan to join Real in 2010 after leading the Italian club to their first European crown in 45 years. He also won the competition with Porto in 2004.
Mourinho certainly rode his luck against United as Real were trailing 2-1 on aggregate until Nani's harsh dismissal in the 56 minute transformed the game.
He immediately sent on Luka Modric and the Croatia midfielder cracked in the equaliser seven minutes after replacing fullback Alvaro Arbeloa.
Mourinho was then poised to replace Gonzalo Higuain with strike partner Karim Benzema but Cristiano Ronaldo's 69th-minute goal against his former club edged Real in front and defender Pepe was deployed instead.
United made a brave effort at a comeback and troubled Real goalkeeper Diego Lopez several times but the visitors held on reasonably comfortably and went close to extending their lead on a number of occasions.
"Modric was crucial because he changed the match and the sending-off also changed the match because they were left a man down," Mourinho told a news conference after the game.
"Modric gave us creativity and movement. He was thinking about rapid, vertical movement and changed the flow.
"When the equaliser came, I was going to put on Benzema for Higuain. I was going to risk everything. History is full of teams who have got results with 10 men."
Real, who celebrate their 111th birthday on Wednesday, will find out who they will face in the quarter-finals when the draw is made on March 15.
"Going through gives us confidence to get the tenth title," Brazil playmaker Kaka told reporters.
"We have not won anything yet but it is a step forward," he added. "In football you never know what will happen and we still have a chance to win a double." (Editing by Patrick Johnston)