Trevor Steven: Ronaldo and Real are Europe’s most feared
Easy draws dont exist at this stage of the Champions League but if there is one team that the other semi-finalists wont want to be paired with on Friday then it is Real Madrid.
The holders have shown again this season that you cannot underestimate the value of a battle-hardened group of players who have been there and done it all before.
Winning the Champions League once gives you so much in terms of confidence and know-how, but lifting the trophy in consecutive years – as Real did in 2016 and 2017 – truly sets them apart.
We saw it in the ominous way they despatched an in-form Paris Saint-Germain 5-2 in the last 16 and their vast experience has laid the foundations for their current campaign.
They started the season poorly, seemingly tired or in some way depleted from their European exertions last year, but since the turn of the year they have looked a different team.
Cristiano Ronaldo has personified that improvement. He scored just four league goals before January; since then he has hit record-breaking scoring form, hitting 20 in his last 10 matches alone.
Ronaldo may not take players on like he used to but he has adapted his game. Now he gets the ball, gives it and gets in the box to score magical goals like his overhead kick against Juventus last week.
He has honed his approach to become even more effective. Even though everyone on the opposing team knows who he is and what he does, he succeeds in doing it regardless.
Ronaldo scored a magical bicycle kick in last week's first-leg win over Juventus (Source: Getty)
His scoring rate – more than a goal a game – is even better than last year, and to do that at 33 is phenomenal.
When you consider that Ryan Giggs still played regularly for Manchester United at 35, I think he probably has another two years left at the top level.
Ronaldo may not be to everybodys tastes and he can seem childish but he is not trying to please, just to get the most out of him and his team, and that determination makes him every bit as much of a leader for Real as Sergio Ramos is in defence.
His and Lionel Messis achievements wont be fully appreciated until they have retired. Its so unusual to have those two in the same league, driving each other on to improve – even at this stage of their careers – and I dont think well see the likes of it again.
Ronaldo and Messi have spurred each other on to continue improving (Source: Getty)
Real, set up by Zinedine Zidane to get the best out of Ronaldo, would be my Champions League favourites, assuming their three-goal first-leg lead sees them through against Juventus on Wednesday.
With the Bundesliga sewn up, Bayern Munich have the luxury of being able to focus on Europe, although that can lead to a loss of intensity.
Barcelona, meanwhile, will be desperate to deny their fierce rivals another European crown. Three in a row in the modern era would be nothing short of incredible.