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Is the world’s third best striker at the Bernabeu today? Robin van Persie is pretty good, too

Feb 13, 2013, 9:31 AM EDT

Manchester United Training Session Getty Images

The debate of best forward in the world begins and ends at Leo Messi; most of us agree on that.

Cristiano Ronaldo looks like the clear No. 2 to many of us. Fair to say the Real Madrid man would land there on most lists.

But who is No. 3?

More to the point, are Nos. 2 and 3 paired up scrumptiously for today’s huge match, Manchester United’s sensational visit to Real Madrid. (It’s “the match the world is waiting for,” you know.)

Another of the fascinating subplots entwined in today’s titanic Champions League Clash in Madrid is Robin van Persie’s attempts to bang his way into the conversation of world’s best striker. Manchester United’s first-choice sniper has 19 goals in 26 matches this year. That puts the Dutchman just a bit behind pace (although not too terribly far) in matching last year’s stunning totals, 37 goals in 48 appearances in his last year at Arsenal.

Is there anyone else who can insert his high-scoring feet into the conversation?

Paris Saint-Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Brazil’s Neymar? Anybody for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a latecomer to the conversation, now 29 years old?

For most of us, it’s van Persie. The simplest way to break down Manchester United’s gallop away from the field in this year’s Premier League race – about as much of a “race” right now as me facing Usain Bolt – is van Persie’s extraordinary proficiency near goal.

Hand the Dutchman to Manchester City, this thing would likely look much different. Maybe you could even say the same for Chelsea or even Tottenham, dare say. (The Premier League table is here.)

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who had Ronaldo for six years at Old Trafford, said van Persie is getting close to the game’s gold standard in goal scorers:

Robin is approaching the level of Ronaldo and Messi. His arrival at our place has been nothing but sensational. He has been a breath of fresh air to the young players and also a good coach to them. Twenty-three goals tells you everything.”

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