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Pépé wants more as Lille close on second

Publish on 26/04/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS

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It has been a wonderful season for Nicolas Pépé but he insists he can still improve "every aspect" of his game as the LOSC star and his side prepare to welcome Nîmes Olympique to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Sunday.

LOSC  -  Nîmes Olympique 

Pépé has 19 goals and 11 assists in Ligue 1 Conforama this season. Only Kylian Mbappé (30) has scored more goals, while nobody has set up more. Little wonder Lille are expecting to make a huge profit on the 23-year-old if, as expected, he is sold at the end of the season, two years after his arrival from Angers SCO for a reported fee of €10 million.

The Ivory Coast international's form this season comes after he scored 13 league goals in his debut campaign in the far north of France. However, he insists he is still a long way from being the complete player.

Asked in an interview with Lille's own website about how he could improve, Pépé replied: "In every aspect. I am still looking to improve because nothing is acquired just like that. You need to be wary of the slightest complacency. Before I tended to sometimes be a bit blasé about things. I have erased that and improved my finishing, my dribbling, my tracking back. These are things I work on every day."

Ominous

It is an ominous warning to opponents from a player who recently made his 100th Ligue 1 Conforama appearance and has been the driving force behind Lille's sensational campaign which has them on course to finish second and qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League group stage.

"At LOSC I have progressed in my approach towards matches. I don't go out onto the field in the same way. Before there was this fear, this doubt about how to make this run or that run. I have gained confidence in myself I think," Pépé said when asked how he had progressed as a player since leaving Angers.

"Then there are the statistics as well. They count when you are a forward. At Angers they said I wasn't clinical enough, that I didn't score enough goals, or finish off my moves. I have worked a lot on that and still do work a lot on that."

He will be keen to get back among the goals this weekend after a slight performance from him and his teammates in last weekend's 0-0 draw at Toulouse. That result in a tricky fixture means Christophe Galtier's side have been beaten only once in 14 league outings in 2019, but off the back of their stunning 5-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain, it was also a draw which gave some hope to the sides below them.

Lyon showdown approaching

LOSC return to their home turf looking to keep Olympique Lyonnais in third place at arm's length. The gap between the teams was six points after last week's matches, with Lille boasting the better goal difference. The sides meet at the Groupama Stadium next weekend in a potentially huge game.

Lille could at least all but clinch a place on the podium with a victory here against a side they defeated 3-2 away back in December, despite having José Fonte sent off early on. Since then, Nîmes have propelled themselves towards survival in their first season in the elite in a quarter of a century. They come into this game in ninth place with 46 points, with last week's 2-1 win over Girondins de Bordeaux their third in their last four outings.

The pressure is off for the Crocodiles, who have lost their last four games away from home and are without on-loan Lyon midfielder Jordan Ferri here due to suspension. Skipper Anthony Briançon can return in defence following a ban, however.

Savanier set for summer move?

There are two possible distractions for the southern outfit, though. Some doubts have been raised as to whether coach Bernard Blaquart will still be in charge next season amid reports that a host of leading players will leave the Stade des Costières. Among the players who could go is playmaker Téji Savanier, the joint-leading assist provider in the division alongside Pépé with 11 and who has been linked with a return to his first club, Montpellier Hérault SC, amongst others.

"To stay at a club, you need to feel good, be in harmony with everyone, have a team that can do the job, and have an interesting project. If I am still here next year, it will be because things are going in the direction I want them to," Blaquart told Canal+ last weekend.

There could be big changes at both of these clubs in the summer, but for now the focus is on finishing a fine season on a high.

Probable teams

Lille: Maignan; Celik, Fonte, Gabriel, Koné; Pépé, Thiago Mendes, Soumaré, Bamba; Ikoné, Leao

Nîmes: Bernardoni; Ripart, Miguel, Lybohy, Paquiez; Bobichon, Savanier, Valls; Thioub, Guillaume, Bouanga