Handicapping the Race to Sign Lille's Nicolas Pepe

Nicolas Pepe has played his way out of Lille, but which European power will win the heated race for the 23-year-old Ivory Coast international?
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One of the hottest prospects in world football right now, Nicolas Pepe has enjoyed a real breakthrough campaign at LOSC Lille.

The Ivorian has had a blistering season in front of goal, with 19 strikes in just 32 Ligue 1 appearances this season, while he has also shown off his playmaking skills with 11 assists. 

Pepe's 'double-double' has attracted interest from many of European football's biggest sides this season, with his club president confirming that he'll surely be sold this summer. Take a look at some of the teams linked with a summer move for the winger, and how likely a move to each club actually is.

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Paris Saint-Germain


In producing one of his best displays against the Parisian giants, Pepe undeniably jumped up the pecking order of potential summer targets for PSG. The winger scored one and set up another two as Lille thrashed the reigning Ligue 1 champions 5-1 on Sunday, delaying Thomas Tuchel's men from lifting the French title for at least another few days.

With the futures of superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe relatively uncertain amid reports linking the pair with moves away, Pepe's name may just begin to crop up more in Paris. The 23-year-old never seems to be overawed by the occasion and has time and time again stepped up for Christophe Galtier's side this season. If either of PSG's big-money talents departs this summer, Pepe could be the man to step into those massive boots.

Likelihood rating: 4/10

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Manchester United


With a director of football likely to be brought in to help Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bring in new faces, Pepe's name is likely to figure prominently at Old Trafford. United's Norwegian boss has shown tactical flexibility in his short time in charge of the club, but has predominantly favored formations with wingers, and with just Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford the main options, a new wide man may be in the cards.

Juan Mata has sometimes played on the flanks but looks set to leave the club at the expiration of his contract this summer, while Sanchez has been sub-par since his arrival from Arsenal last year. Pepe's potential arrival would free up Rashford to play up top, where he has excelled in recent months, and Solskjaer's preference for the counterattack would look all the more devastating with a front three of Martial, Pepe and Rashford.

Likelihood rating: 5/10

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Inter Milan


In what is expected to be a long drawn-out saga this summer, it is Serie A's Inter that has made the first move in the race to sign Pepe. France Football claims that the Nerazzurri have tabled a bid worth €60m for the winger, and that the Italian side has been in 'constant contact' with Lille in recent weeks over negotiating a move. 

Croatian star Ivan Perisic was on the verge of joining Arsenal in the January transfer window, and could well be allowed to move on, meaning a replacement would be sought. Whether Pepe would see joining Inter as a more attractive proposition than some of the other clubs featured on this list remains to be seen, and with Lille expecting a bidding war to take place, Luciano Spalletti's side could well find itself priced out of a move.

Likelihood rating: 6/10

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Linked with Arsenal for what feels like an eternity, Pepe seems to fit everything that Unai Emey seems to want in terms of an attacking acquisition this summer. The Gunners look woefully short on depth and competition in the wide areas, with only Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as what you would describe as more orthodox wingers.

While both are great with their feet and look suited to the new Arsenal style, neither seems the best when it comes to electric speed and direct dribbling. Pepe, however, relishes one-on-one situations with the opposite fullback, and having that ability to do something out of the ordinary and conjure up a bit of magic for the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to feed off is exactly what Emery's side needs. How likely it is to sign him will surely depend on how the Gunners end the season. 

Reports have suggested just £40m will be made available for Emery, but securing Champions League football next year could raise the transfer kitty considerably. Finish in the top four or win the Europa League, and the Gunners will be serious contenders for one of the brightest stars in European football.

Likelihood rating: 7/10

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Bayern Munich


Seemingly the early frontrunners for Pepe's signature, Bayern is intent on completely rejuvenating its squad after what ultimately has been a rather disappointing season. The Bavarian giants are still battling for the Bundesliga title, but fell short at the last-16 stage of the Champions League to Liverpool, and were, in truth, made to look rather ordinary by Jurgen Klopp's side.

With deals France World Cup-winning defenders Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard already tied up, reports have suggested the club's attention has now turned toward pushing through a move for Pepe. Bayern legends Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are well into their mid-30s and set for a move away at the end of the season, and the prospect of lining up with a wide duo of Pepe and Kingsley Coman appears to be a tantalizing prospect. 

With the Ivory Coast international's price likely to be upwards of €80m, Bayern will have the edge over Arsenal when it comes to being able to afford the winger, and that could make all the difference this summer.

Likelihood rating: 9/10