Multiple sources, including Joel Domenighetti for L’Equipe, are reporting that Liverpool have met Lille’s €80 million valuation of Nicolas Pepe. If completed, the fee would be close to Liverpool’s club record deal for Virgil van Dijk. Who is Pepe, though?
Nicolas Pepe Profile
Nicolas Pepe, 24, began his career in the fifth tier of French football, at Stade Poitiers. He was signed by Angers, at the time of Ligue 2, in 2013, aged 18. His full Angers debut came in 2014, although he spent much of his early time playing for the reserve team. After impressing on loan at Orleans in the French third tier in 2015/16, he was promoted to the Angers first team, who had achieved promotion to Ligue 1.
In his debut Ligue 1 season, Pepe made 33 appearances, helping his side to an 11th placed finish and an appearance in the Coupe de France final. His impressive performances caught the attention of the Ivory Coast national team, for whom he was eligible due to his parent’s nationality. He made his debut as a substitute against France in November 2016 and went on to be included in the 2017 African Cup of Nations squad.
His strong season also caught the eye of Lille. At the end of the 2016/17 season, Pepe was bought by the Marcelo Bielsa-led side €10 million.
Pepe was a regular during his first season at Lille, in which the club flirted with relegation. His thirteen league goals made him the club’s top scorer and were vital in keeping the club afloat in Ligue 1.
His second season has been even more impressive, helping Lille to a second-place finish. Surrounded by a more talented cast, Pepe has continued to star. His 22 goals made him the second highest scorer in Ligue 1, whilst he also contributed 11 assists. He has also made a habit of turning up in big games, with three goals against Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon. His performances in 2018/19 earnt him a spot in the Ligue 1 team of the season.
What Sort of Player is He?
A left-footed wide player, Pepe plays almost exclusively on the right. His biggest strength is his pace, which he translates into dribbling superbly. He is extremely direct and thrives off of the opportunity to run at defenders with speed. This makes him a dangerous player on the counter. However, it also aids his side when they are dominating possession. His ability to go from stationary to full speed quickly can prove vital in breaking down defences, something which he demonstrated often with Lille, who averaged the fifth highest possession in Ligue 1 with 52.5%. His goal tally speaks for the quality of his finishing.
However, a closer look at the numbers does highlight a potential weakness. Of his 22 Ligue 1 goals, 21 were scored with his left foot. Only one came with his right, whilst none were headers. Although the numbers don’t tell the full story, Pepe has significant work to do on improving his right foot. Failure to do so could make him a one-dimensional player who defenders at the highest level can handle comfortably. The vast majority of his goals (21) came from inside the box, again identify a possible area for improvement.
Understandably, Liverpool are not the only club interested in Nicolas Pepe. Europe’s top clubs are all looking at the winger, but many are deterred by the price. It could be argued that the slow adaptation to life outside of France by Thomas Lemar and Malcom are making clubs think twice about paying a vast sum for Pepe.
Nicolas Pepe has enjoyed a meteoric rise from France’s fifth tier to starring in Ligue 1. At 24, the winger still has plenty of opportunities to further develop. He has areas of his game which need refining, but his raw talent and goal scoring record speak for themselves. A move to Liverpool, where he would not be an immediate starter but instead play a rotational role, would allow him to adapt to English football and work on his weaknesses. The signing of Nicolas Pepe should prove to be an excellent piece of business, should he end up at Anfield.