From Ronaldo to Buffon: Key battles to decide the Champions League
It will be a case of irresistible force meets immovable object in Cardiff on Saturday – so who will triumph?
The Champions League final in Cardiff on Saturday will live up to its name for once, as newly crowned Spanish league winners Real Madrid face Italian champions Juventus in what could be a classic encounter.
Real Madrid are aiming to become the first team to defend their European crown in the modern era, while Juventus are going for a treble – adding the Champions League to their domestic league and cup wins.
Not only that but the two sides embody different styles of play. While Real Madrid rely on outscoring their opponents, Juventus refuse to buckle. The final is likely to be a case of irresistible force meets immovable object.
Here are four key match-ups that could decide the outcome:
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Leonardo Bonucci
The final essentially boils down to a battle between two footballing disciplines – goalscoring vs defending. Can miserly Juventus shackle freewheeling Real Madrid? Or more specifically – can Bonucci (aided by Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini) neutralise Ronaldo, with more than 100 Champions League goals to his name?
"Ronaldo's form throughout this season's Champions League knockout stages has been incredible," says ESPN. "Hat tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid have won matches almost single-handedly: when Real aren't playing well, Ronaldo has been their saviour, and when they are playing well, he makes them almost unstoppable."
Juventus have been equally impressive, conceding only three goals in 12 games. Breaking them down "will be as difficult a test as Real Madrid has faced all season", says Yahoo Sport.
Marcelo vs Dani Alves
"It's the battle of the Brazilians out on the wing, and it may just be the most intriguing matchup of them all," says Fox Sports.
Ostensibly both are defenders, but try telling them that. Both will push up and whoever gains the upper hand will give his side a real edge going forward.
Alves has history with Real Madrid thanks to his time at Barcelona. He's been in sensational form for Juventus this season. Marcelo is usually a key factor in Real's memorable performances, good and bad.
"Marcelo is as technically gifted as most and will play a crucial role in Real's passing triangles as they set up camp in Juve's half," says ESPN. "Alves, however, will be looking to speed in behind on the counterattack. He might prove the game's key player."
Sergio Ramos vs Gonzalo Higuain
In another clash with real spice, former Real Madrid striker Higuain will be trying to outwit his old teammate Ramos.
"Since leaving Real Madrid in 2013, Higuain has gone on to be one of the best strikers in the world," says the Daily Mirror.
He has 32 goals in 54 games this season, "but he'll face stern competition on Saturday night against former teammate Sergio Ramos… [who] knows the Argentine's movements all too well".
After six seasons together, Higuain will know how to push Ramos's buttons too. The no-nonsense defender can sometimes overstep the mark and has 22 career red cards to his name.
Keylor Navas v Gianluigi Buffon
The two goalkeepers will not end up face to face unless it goes all the way to penalties, but they will both have a huge role to play regardless.
"It seems inconceivable that Buffon could bow out of the game having not won Europe's premier club competition," says BT Sport. "But he is fast running out of time."
The 39-year-old has more than 100 Champions League appearances to his name and three losers' medals. Will it be fourth time lucky?
Navas has less than a quarter of Buffon's experience but won the title last season. But is he the equal of the mighty Italian? The stats suggest not.
Buffon has 21 clean sheets this season, Navas has just seven.