Juventus v Real Madrid: Five key duels in Saturday’s Champions League final
Real Madrid face Juventus in Saturday’s Champions League final in Cardiff aiming to become the first side ever to retain the trophy in its current format.
However, the Italian champions have already shown their might in dumping out Real’s bitter rivals Barcelona on route to the final.
Here, AFP Sports looks at five key clashes that will have a major impact on who comes out on top:
Cristiano Ronaldo v Leonardo Bonucci
Ronaldo by his own admission has never been fitter, fresher or in better form at the end of a season as he is now.
The Portuguese has scored 14 goals in his last nine appearances, including hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the quarter and semi-finals respectively.
However, Ronaldo is now faced with the meanest defence in the Champions League led by one of the world’s best in Bonucci.
Along with Italian international teammates Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon, Bonucci kept Barcelona’s fabled strikeforce of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar scoreless over 180 minutes in the quarter-finals.
Sergio Ramos v Gonzalo Higuain
Higuain faces his old side hoping to dispell his reputation as a big-game bottler and justify Juventus’s 90 million euro splash on the Argentine last summer.
A poor return on the Champions League stages was what led to Higuain being sold by Madrid to Napoli in 2013.
And he missed big chances to cost Argentina dear in the finals of the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 and 2016 Copa America.
Ramos, by contrast, is very much the man for the big occasion.
He is the only defender to have scored in two Champions League finals having netted against Atletico in 2014 and 2016.
Marcelo v Dani Alves
Similar in style and personality, these two Brazilian full-backs will bomb forward at every opportunity to try and expose the other’s defensive shortcomings.
No active player has beaten Madrid more than Alves’s 22 victories during his time with Barcelona and Sevilla.
At 34 he has been reborn in his debut season with the Vecchia Signora, scoring a sensational volley and providing Juventus’s other three goals in their semi-final win over Monaco.
Marcelo’s importance to Madrid is underlined by the fact his supreme energy levels allow him to often cover the whole left wing to himself as Ronaldo drifts inside.
Casemiro v Paulo Dybala
Dybala enhanced his burgeoning reputation and increased comparisons with Messi with a two-goal blitz inside the first 22 minutes from which Barca never recovered in the quarters.
However, finding space between the defence and midfield is a far trickier task against Madrid thanks to Casemiro’s presence.
The Brazilian can often be overzealous with his tough tackling, though, and could walk a fine line against the fleet-footed Dybala.
Luka Modric v Miralem Pjanic
With so much attacking talent on both sides, Modric and Pjanic will be tasked with providing the ammunition as the creative hubs in midfield.
After a slow start to the season, Pjanic has ensured Paul Pogba hasn’t been missed in Turin despite Juventus receiving a world record fee for the Frenchman.
Casemiro’s presence at the base of the midfield gives Modric more freedom to roam forward and with the likes of Isco, Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to aim for, Juventus can’t afford to give the Croatian any space.Punch