GARETH McAuley insists Robin van Persie is the best footballer he has ever played against – despite having been on the receiving end of a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick earlier this month.
The 33-year-old could not deny the 2008 FIFA Ballon do’r winner as he helped his Portugal team-mates to a 4-2 World Cup qualifying victory over Northern Ireland at Windsor Park.
But McAuley believes van Persie, who has scored four in his last five games against Albion, poses him the biggest test as he bids to stop the Dutch international in today's Barclays Premier League trip to Manchester United (ko 3pm).
“I can see why many people would say Ronaldo is the best in the world,” said McAuley.
“But I think van Persie is the best player I’ve ever played against.
“He doesn’t give you a chance to get the ball off him.
“As a defender he always knows where you are.
“He’s strong and his first touch is always away from you.
“You never have chance to get into him properly and his finishing is ridiculous!”
And McAuley is all too aware of van Persie’s partner in crime, Wayne Rooney, who has four goals in his last four games for the Red Devils.
“You can’t take your eye off Rooney for a minute,” he added.
“He’s a fantastic player who’s still getting better.
“Over the last couple of weeks he’s taken his game to another level.
“He’s looking very sharp and he’s getting the goals as well.
“When he’s inside the box he can produce any sort of finish.
“He’s strong and he has a low centre of gravity which makes him difficult to knock off the ball.
“When you get on a run it really improves your confidence.
“He’s certainly one we’ll have to watch.”
The 6ft5in defender has contributed to hoodoo-breaking wins over Villa, Newcastle, Liverpool, Stoke and Chelsea during his time at the club.
But the Baggies have not won at Old Trafford since 1978 and McAuley, who made his Barclays Premier League debut on this weekend two years ago today, hopes to end a 13-game winless streak on United soil this afternoon.
“I love playing at Old Trafford and it’s what you play football for," he said.
“It’s a challenge and they’re on another level.
“We need to try and be at their level.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve done quite well against the big clubs.
“It would be nice if we can add Manchester United to the list.”