Manchester United striker Robin van Persie

Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill has likened Robin van Persie’s effect on the Manchester United team to that of Lionel Messi for Barcelona, the Guardian reports.

The praise from O’Neill followed his side’s 3-1 Premier League defeat at Old Trafford on Saturday in which van Persie was influential throughout for the Red Devils, scoring once as well as providing an assist for Wayne Rooney’s goal.

Speaking of the Dutchman’s impact on the United team, the Sunderland boss made reference to the importance of Barcelona maestro Lionel Messi for the Spanish side.

“Would, for instance, Barcelona have the same effect if Lionel Messi didn’t play? The number of goals he has scored is incredible [90 in 2012]. They are a very talented team, but without him, you don’t know because Messi is their talisman.”

Van Persie took his tally to 15 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions so far this season for his new club, following his switch from the Emirates to Old Trafford in August.

“Honestly, he [Van Persie] can get goals out of very little. It looks like nothing is happening, you have players there in the area, but all of a sudden, he has opened up a gap,” O’Neill said.

“Just look at the third goal. We would say we didn’t defend brilliantly, but he would say it was great play, fantastic play, and you always felt that United would give themselves a big edge by getting van Persie.

United currently sit six points clear of rivals Manchester City at the top of the table, and are now guaranteed to be able to enjoy being leaders of the pack at Christmas.

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