According to the French media, Liverpool want to add Nicolas Pépé to their attacking ranks this summer. Reports claim the Reds are in a good position to land the Lille forward along with Bayern Munich and Inter.
The final decision lies with the 24-year-old and, as of yet, he’s still undecided. With the Africa Cup of Nations kicking off in less than two weeks, however, clubs will likely know his choice sooner rather than later.
While the rumoured £70million fee may seem excessive, Pépé could prove good value for money in a post-Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain world. Especially if you consider a large chunk of that fee will likely be in add-ons.
Lille discusses with Liverpool. Off the record, Lille confirms that. The player is talking to Liverpool. Liverpool is not all alone on the player. Now we are waiting for his decision.
— Mohamed Bouhafsi (@mohamedbouhafsi) June 9, 2019
It’s clear why Liverpool might be interested in Pépé. He’s direct and aggressive when in possession, he’s explosively quick and he’s a genuine goal threat from a wide area. Beyond Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, Jürgen Klopp’s current forward options could be best described as pedestrian.
Pépé’s record since the start of the 2017/18 season is phenomenal. The former Angers man has 35 goals and 11 assists, and in one of those campaigns, Lille avoided relegation by a single point showing he can deliver in an underperforming, struggling side.
He’s the sort to excite fans and he’d improve most forward lines in world football. But Liverpool’s attacking trio aren’t like most forward lines. There’s a fluidity to it, a dynamism reliant on a perfect balance.
On FIFA you’d just change the formation to 4-2-3-1, stick Pépé on the right, Salah as the number nine and Roberto Firmino as the attacking midfielder, and be done with it.
But sadly it’s a lot more complicated than that in real life. Adding the Lille No.19 to this Liverpool team without disrupting others could prove to be quite difficult.
The 24-year-old shares a lot of traits with Salah. On one hand, that is a positive. Prolific wide forwards are all the rage and Pépé would give Liverpool a flexibility they’d otherwise not have, enabling them to manage their No.11’s playing time a lot more efficiently.
After all, having a Salah doppelgänger can’t be a bad thing, right?
But this is where the task Klopp may have on his hands becomes apparent. Pépé’s game is shaped on him sticking the right flank during build-up phases before drifting inside when he feels there is a chance of a shot.
Lille are a counter-attacking team so it makes sense for them to look to keep their wide forwards high and wide so there’s more space to attack during transition.
A high number of Pépé’s come from these types of situations. It explains why he doesn’t have many touches in the opposition’s box and why he doesn’t average many shots on a per 90 basis considering he’s the team’s main goal threat.
For added context, Liverpool as a team take four more shots than Lille while averaging eight per cent more possession.
For Pépé it was, at times, a smash and grab sort of game.
Nicolas Pepe's off the ball movements leading to goals pic.twitter.com/mNIXJM64Ec
— Harry (@HS_10Ftbol) June 14, 2019
It differs to that at Anfield. Salah’s goal return has always hinged on sustained pressure. He’s by no means clinical but he doesn’t have to be. Liverpool create an abundance of opportunities for him, as evidenced by his 4.09 shots per 90.
However, what both players do share is the tendency to occupy the right flank.
The former Roma man, even when deployed as the one to lead the line, naturally drifts to that side of the pitch.
Primarily, it’s so he can isolate defenders and then cut in onto his favoured foot. But it also allows Firmino and Mané to take up central positions and add to the team’s overall goal threat, too.
The fact is Salah attacks from that side of the pitch no matter where his starting position is.
Could he do it with Pépé in the team? Not without tweaks to the way both play. Would that hurt their individual output? Perhaps.
But it could make Liverpool more dangerous as a team. And it’s also worth considering that Pépé’s game is evolving, slightly. It may now lend itself to being shaped by Klopp to suit the team.
During the 2018/19 season, the Lille man added a ruthlessness to his game. He scored more goals and his expected goals per 90 average more than doubled. He was having more touches in the penalty area, completing more dribbles and taking more shots.
All traits you can transfer to central parts of the pitch.
Goals breed confidence and it was clear in the way Pépé was playing that he could be transformed into something else. A more well-rounded forward capable of leading the line.
If Klopp can hone those skills just as he did with Mané and Salah, then the Reds have another 20-goal per season forward on their hands. One who suits the fluid attack the German has assembled on Merseyside.
At times last season, Liverpool did play 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2. The season before, Klopp used a 4-2-2-2 shape. Pépé would fit into all of them. In a number of roles.
While Firmino and Mané could share duties on the left, switching positions throughout the game to give the Reds a variety of options, Salah and Pépé could do the same on the right. With all four influencing the game in a positive way.
Many see Salah as a goalscorer but he’s also a creator. Giving him another attacker to link with could see him unlock a part to his game very few realised he had.
On paper at least, the Ivory Coast international makes this Liverpool team even more of a threat. If he joins he could be the man to turn those draws into victories.