When Antonio Valencia was signed by Manchester United as a replacement for the flamboyant Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2009, those who were underwhelmed by the capture of the former Wigan Athletic wide-man could be forgiven.

But, so impressive have the Ecuadorian international's performances been at Old Trafford, particularly this season, that some have already drawn comparisons between the impacts made by the two wingers.

The Portuguese star made a remarkable contribution during his time with the Red Devils before his high profile £80million move to Real Madrid, paving way for Valencia to join the United revolution.

But that is where the similarities end - the two men's personalities could hardly be more different. United's new silent assassin is more a reluctant hero who has been equally instrumental for the reigning Premier League champions, particularly in their title defence since the turn of the year.

Ronaldo remains one of the greatest players in Manchester United's rich history during a six-year trophy laden spell in England, but Valencia's importance should not be underestimated.

After a typically impressive display in last weekend's 2-1 victory over Liverpool, the South American provided his ninth assist of the season, and linked up once again with talismanic striker Wayne Rooney - the England international is developing a fruitful partnership with the attacking midfielder, who has supplied him on three occasions this season.

"Antonio has been playing brilliantly," Rooney enthused last month. "He is back to his best and when he is like that he is so difficult to defend against.

"It is great for the forwards because he is so good at delivering the ball into the box quickly."

BBC pundit Garth Crooks went on to comment at the weekend: "What a contribution the South American has made to Manchester United this season. He's unrecognisable from the Wigan player he was a few years ago.

"He doesn't score the goals Cristiano Ronaldo used to, but I'm convinced he's a better team player and far less aggravation."

Valencia suffered a horror ankle injury last season, but returned to play a key role in the run-in to United's record 19th title. Sir Alex Ferguson proved just how highly he regards the 26-year-old by selecting him ahead of Nani to start the Champions League final against Barcelona last May.

The versatile Valencia has also proved invaluable when regularly asked to fill in at right-back this year - as United struggled to cope with their debilitating injury list which at one time had ravaged their back line.

It's no surprise his best performances have come when reverting to his favoured position in attack though. And that has been crucial in helping United close the gap on local rivals Manchester City in the league.

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Antonio Valencia