Madrid - In the lead up to Real Madrid’s semi-final first leg away to Borussia Dortmund, a well-known sports publication allied to the team from the Spanish capital featured a match report from a friendly encounter between the sides in 2009.

On 19 August that year, and featuring the recently signed Cristiano Ronaldo, Madrid hampered Dortmund’s centenary celebrations by running out 5-0 winners at Signal Iduna Park.

Ronaldo the key

The Portuguese attacker wasn’t on the scoresheet on that occasion – two months after he completed his €92m move from Manchester United FC – but the mere mention of the 28-year-old’s presence in such a commanding victory against die Schwarzgelben may well have been designed to assuage the anxiety of Madrid’s supporters, unsure of what to expect from this mouthwatering last four encounter.

Almost four years after completing that record transfer and having registered 196 goals in 193 games for the club, Ronaldo has become Madrid’s talisman. The Portuguese attacker’s performance on Wednesday will be crucial to his team’s chances of improving on a record of just one win in their last 24 visits to Germany in official competitions.

'At his peak'

“He’s at his peak now and has matured since he left us; he is a better player,” Manchester United FC’s Sir Alex Ferguson said of Ronaldo ahead of the Red Devils’ meeting with the nine-time European champions in the round of 16 this season. “I knew he would improve but to score the amount of goals he has is really phenomenal,” the much-decorated coach added.

The latest record achieved by the former Sporting Clube de Portugal winger was that of becoming the first Madrid player to register 30 or more top-flight goals in three separate seasons at the club. Just one goal shy of his 50th in the UEFA Champions League, Ronaldo is the tournament’s leading scorer this season with eleven goals, one of which was scored in the 2-1 group stage defeat away to Dortmund on 24 October.

Good recent record

That win for Jürgen Klopp’s side – which came about thanks to goals from Robert Lewandowski and Marcel Schmelzer – put the Bundesliga team in command in the group, and they would have made it two from two against Madrid in the return fixture a fortnight later, only for Mesut Özil to save the day for the hosts with an 88th minute free kick.

Individual errors in crucial positions combined with the inability to deal with the attacking exuberance of a fearless and energetic Dortmund side over two games resulted in Madrid ceding top spot in Group D to their German opponents. An injury to holding midfielder Sami Khedira deprived the men in white of a crucial presence early on in the first meeting, and having failed to recover for the corresponding fixture, Madrid struggled to cope with their clever opponents in the first half of the return encounter at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Spaniards in form

“When we played those two games [against Dortmund] we weren’t as good as we are now,” attacker Angel Di María said in the build-up to Wednesday’s game. “We are more compact in defence these days and more confident too,” he added. Indeed, weaknesses within the Madrid ranks when attempting to deal with high balls into their penalty area - particularly from free kicks and corners – hampered the Spaniards' efforts until strenuous work on the training ground was applied in order to address the problem.

Despite those flaws, Madrid have reached a third successive semi-final on the basis of their main strength, namely their ability to mount lethal counter-attacks which, when led by Ronaldo and assisted by Di María and Özil, can take just seconds to execute. A newfound solidity in all areas of the pitch and a collective willingness to accept the challenge of winning La Décima – or a tenth European Cup triumph – has led to the vast majority of the squad finally rowing in the same direction at a crucial stage of the season.

Gunning for title no.10

With Madrid having long since resigned themselves to losing their Liga title – won with record numbers last season – to FC Barcelona, José Mourinho’s side do appear to be at their strongest now than at any other point this term. Unless fans of the team see a positive first leg result obtained in Germany on Wednesday, however, the fears will remain.

It is, after all, only a year ago that Los Blancos seemed to be heading towards a 13th European Cup final only to be denied a place in the showpiece by another German opponent in FC Bayern München, who eventually ousted the Spanish team on penalties. The same opposition could well be waiting for them, after the Bavarians' crushing 4-0 win over FC Barcelona in Tuesday's first semi-final.

Paul Bryan

Paul Bryan is a Spanish football expert based in Madrid. You can follow him on Twitter at @UEFAcomPaulB