Gary Neville hailed Romelu Lukaku’s virtuoso performance against Arsenal on Sunday but confessed he couldn’t believe how the Gunners played into the Chelsea striker’s hands.
Making his first appearance for his new club following his £97million transfer from Inter, Lukaku was in imperious form and took just 15 minutes to open his goalscoring account, tapping home from close range having bulldozed Pablo Mari out of his way.
The Spanish defender looked ill at ease throughout a testing 90 minutes as he attempted to cope with the physical threat presented by Lukaku.
Neville felt a measure of sympathy for Mari, but was struck by the way he failed to adapt to the challenge. although he acknowledged the 27-year-old wasn’t helped by Arsenal’s naïve tactical set-up.
‘We had seen Brentford destroy Arsenal’s centre-backs so we knew that Lukaku was going to have a field day if they were not protected but they did not stop that ball going in,’ Neville told Monday Night Football.
‘I felt sorry for Pablo Mari during the game. I just felt like he was pinned continuously. However, I don’t think that he helped himself. He is an experienced centre-back who has had a lot of years in the game now.
‘One thing you can never do as a smaller centre-back up against a more physical player is let that striker dictate the position of where you are going to be.
‘He had to be braver and step in front. If he stays up in line with the other defenders, Lukaku has to change his position. It means that the midfield tacklers are also closer to him.
‘So he causes himself a massive problem continuously by dropping deeper than his back line because he is fearful of what Lukaku is going to do to him. The braver and more sensible thing to do is to step up past Lukaku and to shift him.
‘Liverpool watching this, all the other teams who are going to play against him, you have got to step up there. Mari continuously allowed himself to get pinned one on one and he was never going to be able to deal with Lukaku physically on duels one on one.
‘Nobody can. He is unplayable when the ball is played into him. It was a brilliant centre-forward performance, let’s be clear. But Mari got messed around a lot, the Arsenal centre-back.
‘If you are going to get rolled by Lukaku, get rolled on the other side, on his right foot, not to his left because once he comes inside on that foot you are in big trouble.
‘Brilliant by Lukaku but I do think there was a better way of dealing with him.’
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