Cristiano Ronaldo will line up for Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League semifinal with the weight of an entire football club firmly upon his shoulders.
The Portuguese international has been nothing short of breathtaking for Madrid in the Champions League so far—netting big goals and continuing to wreaking havoc on defenses around the world—and has been fundamental to Los Blancos' European success.
The 28-year-old will face his biggest test of the tournament, however, when he takes on last year's German champions Borussia Dortmund in the semifinals.
Dortmund showed they have the ability to beat Madrid in the group stage, winning their first matchup in Germany and nearly sneaking a win at the Bernabeu.
What's more, they showed they have the defensive strength capable of neutralizing Los Blancos' attack, which seemingly starts and ends with the performance of their superstar winger.
As seen throughout the two legs against Manchester United and Galatasaray, Madrid can be scored on through the middle with good attacking pressure.
Given the strength of Dortmund's squad and the talent in midfield and attack, expect the German giants to attack Madrid well here.
And in turn, expect that to lead to Jose Mourinho's side trying to consolidate their defense and hurt Dortmund on the counterattack.
However, Madrid faces a problem in that this is a German team—they live for the counterattack.
If one thing was learned from Dortmund's incredible two goals in two minutes against Malaga, it's that they know how to move the ball upfield very fast—meaning that they also know how to shut it down when it comes back against them at the other end.
Given Dortmund's tough defense, Madrid won't be afforded as many attacking opportunities as they saw against both United and Galatasaray.
And unless they can take their chances more effectively than they did throughout those fixtures, they may well struggle to get past the cohesion and strength that BVB will bring at the back in this one.
Having Mats Hummels back will be huge for the German club, with his physical presence bringing further stability to their defense.
Hummels is a giant at the back for Dortmund and his ability to set up the defensive unit will be paramount to Dortmund's success here—as will the ability of Ilkay Gundogan to track back and pick up Los Blancos' attackers in the middle.
That pairing will be the difference against Cristiano Ronaldo, and it will therefore be the difference against Real Madrid—despite the fact that the duo may never matchup directly on the superstar winger.
Ronaldo will look to cut in against Dortmund's right and attack the middle as a second striker at times, which is where Gundogan can make the difference.
Similarly, when Ronaldo looks to break quickly down the left, Hummel's ability to get across and sniff out any chances will continue to keep Madrid at bay and lead the Germans to posting a huge first-leg victory.
That's not to suggest that Ronaldo won't find his chances, and it's not even to suggest that he won't find the back of the net. But compared to the difference and effectiveness he's had in the last few Champions League fixtures, the star winger will struggle to do the same against Borussia Dortmund.
In Germany, it will be Dortmund's defense that triumphs over Ronaldo's attacking strengths, as breathtaking as they have been so far.
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