Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe is “just behind” star duo Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in Ligue 1, says Lille OSC manager Christophe Galtier.
Upon arriving from fellow French side Angers in 2017, Pepe has registered an impressive tally of 31 goals and 16 assists in 64 appearances across all competitions for Lille.
The 23-year-old has been compared to a former Lille star in Eden Hazard, who left the Ligue 1 side for Chelsea in 2012 for £32m after seven years.
Pepe’s tendency to dribble, cut inside and play short passes has earned him many plaudits, with his vision proving to be a useful asset for Lille in search of goal scoring opportunities.
And the young star appears to be getting even better this season with his 16 goals in 23 games tying him with Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani as Ligue 1’s second-highest scorer.
Aside from that, Pepe has also added a league-best of eight assists alongside PSG’s Angel Di Maria and Lyon’s Memphis Depay.
“In terms of Ligue 1, he’s just behind Neymar and Mbappe,” said Galtier, according to ESPN.
Pepe’s exploits this season have certainly stirred plenty of interest in him amid reported interest from Premier League side Arsenal.
The Lille star has recently refused to rule out a summer move and is well aware of his growing status in the football world given the change in attitude defenders in France have towards him nowadays.
“It’s in the attitude of defenders that I can see I’ve taken on a new dimension,” said Pepe.
“Some of those I’ve played before don’t act the same way. Some of them fear me, I can feel it.”
The Ivory Coast international initially made his name by helping Lille avoid the drop from Ligue 1 last season.
The man who discovered Pepe was Lille’s sporting director Luis Campos, who has previously worked for Real Madrid and worked with Mbappe at AS Monaco.
“When I was at Real Madrid, even when the team wasn’t playing well, I knew that Cristiano Ronaldo could dribble, shoot, or score at any moment and change the course of match,” Campos told France Football magazine.
“It was the same in Monaco with Mbappe, and now it’s the same in Lille with Pepe.”
After avoiding relegation by a single point last season, Lille find themselves up in second-place in Ligue 1 and in an automatic qualification for Champions League football next term.
Nicolas Pepe is a gunman pic.twitter.com/EOaRLkMLbX
— Adrian Kawonawo (@AdrianKayemba) February 1, 2019