Football: 5 key duels to look out for in the Champions League final

UEFA Champions League banners hang from Cardiff Castle in central Cardiff, Wales, Britain, on June 1, 2017.
UEFA Champions League banners hang from Cardiff Castle in central Cardiff, Wales, Britain, on June 1, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

Cardiff, United Kingdom (AFP) - Real Madrid face Juventus in Saturday's (Sunday 2.45am, Singapore time) 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 are five key clashes that will have a major impact on who comes out on top:

1) Cristiano Ronaldo v Leonardo Bonucci


Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Juventus' defender from Italy Leonardo Bonucci (right). PHOTOS : AFP

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 team-mates Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon, Bonucci kept Barcelona's fabled strike force of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar scoreless over 180 minutes in the quarter-finals.

2) Sergio Ramos v Gonzalo Higuain


Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos (left) and Juventus' forward from Argentina Gonzalo Higuain (right). PHOTO: REUTERS, AFP

Higuain faces his old side hoping to dispel his reputation as a big-game bottler and justify Juventus' €90 million (S$139 million) splash on the Argentinian striker 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.

3) Marcelo v Dani Alves


Real Madrid's Brazilian defender Marcelo Vieira da Silva (left) and Juventus Defender from Brazil Dani Alves (right). PHOTOS: AFP

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' 22 victories during his time with Barcelona and Sevilla.

At 34, he has been reborn in his debut season with Juventus, scoring a sensational volley and providing his side'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.

4) Casemiro v Paulo Dybala


Real Madrid's Brazilian midfielder Casemiro (left) and Juventus’ Paulo Dybala (right). PHOTO: AFP, REUTERS

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 their quarter-final tie.

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.

5) Luka Modric v Miralem Pjanic


Croatian midfielder Luka Modric (left) and Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic (right
). PHOTOS: AFP

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 of £89 million from Manchester United for the Frenchman last summer.

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.