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Pépé: The star of Lille's dramatic revival

Publish on 09/03/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS

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The revelation of the Ligue 1 Conforama season so far, LOSC forward Nicolas Pépé is attracting the attention of some of Europe's biggest teams.

With 16 goals and eight assists to his name in 27 games, the Ivorian winger has found the consistency to match his obvious ability.

"That's one of my main objectives. I was lacking consistency, but I've worked hard to improve in that respect," Pépé told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports ahead of Sunday's trip to AS Saint-Etienne.

"I've also worked on the mental side because it's not easy to be 100 percent on a daily basis. When a top club shows interest, I find that motivating because it shows that my work is paying off. It's good but I try to keep it out of my head, to focus on what's happening on the pitch."

'Strong relationship'

Pépé's upturn has coincided with the arrival of Christophe Galtier, who took over as Lille coach midway through last season

"He brings me a lot. I have a strong relationship with this coach, we communicate a lot, we talk about football and other stuff as well," he said. "I can talk to him about anything. I think he's helped me become wiser, and to be calmer on the pitch. I used to be a bit crazy, I'd run all over the place, but he's got me channelling my energy, and it's working well for me."

When Galtier took charge of Lille, in December 2017, Les Dogues were 18th and facing a relegation dogfight. Although Pépé was just 22 and in his first season at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, he emerged as a leader for an extremely young team, and his 13 league strikes last season went a long way to keeping the club up.

"When things aren't going well you look for the leaders. It was hard for me, because when you are losing and the fans are hostile, you need senior players and you need to stick together on the pitch. I think I did step up last season, and I think that experience has helped me forge a strong mentality, and this season I've managed to be mentally tough and to push myself that extra yard.

The appointment of Christophe Galtier was the catalyst for Nicolas Pépé's explosion at Lille

Champions League 'in our hands'

He added: "With the new signings, the older and the younger players, it's given us that mix we were lacking last season. Last year we had so many young players who were just finding their feet in Ligue 1, myself included. Now with the senior players like José Fonte and Loïc Rémy, it's easier for us because those guys have played for top clubs with top players and they can advise us, and help us prepare for matches. Last year it was harder for us to step out on to the pitch."

Lille's turnaround has been so dramatic they are now on course for second place and automatic Champions League qualification. They have not graced the group stage of Europe's elite club competition since the 2012-13 season.

"We're second for now, we have our destiny in our own hands, and if we can keep playing our football, we're capable of claiming that European qualification. Lyon have more experience of fighting for a top-three place, so it won't be easy, but we're up there for now and we'll try to stay there."

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