Nicolas Pepe: Eden Hazard’s potential heir at Chelsea

In 2012, Eden Hazard joined Chelsea from Lille. Supremely talented, the Belgian has proven an astute and shrewd addition to the Blues. Real Madrid is keen. Should they succeed in luring him to Spain, then Chelsea shouldn’t hesitate to return to the northern tip of France for another dazzler – Nicolas Pepe.

Michael Emenalo wanted a change. Chelsea’s Sporting Director was exhausted of splashing exorbitant sums on overpriced mercenaries. To achieve this, the Nigerian borrowed some of Arsene Wenger’s books on economics. After studies, he reckoned to invest in prospects rather than pedigree could ultimately yield fruits.

He quickly set up an intricate scouting network across Europe. Among the multitude of young migrants to Stamford Bridge was promising 21-year-old Hazard. The Belgian was captured from Lille after three incredible seasons where he won the domestic double and player of the season.

Hazard was a different breed, he oozed greatness all over. He was truly something special. When he had the ball there was no delay. He could dash pass defenders, leaving them trailing in his wake. At just a little above 5 ft, the Belgian wasn’t the strongest nor tallest. Yet like most diminutive players, he possessed exceptional technique and intellect.

Nearly seven years after, the Blues will do themselves good to return to Stade Pierre-Mauroy for Hazard’s potential replacement. Even without Emenalo who isn’t at the club any more. There lies another untapped precious jewel capable of following the footsteps of Real-bound Hazard.

Pepe’s career kicked off pretty same time Hazard landed in England. The Ivorian’s breakthrough came at French fifth Division side, Pointers. A dazzler with an incredible eye for goal, Pepe’s remarkable artistry sprung forth from the onset. He only got nine chances to prove his worth and didn’t disappoint. Not only was Pepe expressive and entertaining, but he also grabbed two goals.

That sparring game time was enough to lure Angers – a side four divisions above in the Ligue 1. But at Stade Raymond Kopa, Pepe needed to bide his time patiently with the reserve team. He had to convince everyone at the club. It took the Ivorian three years, including a spell on loan at Orleans.

Angers would be grateful they did. Better and reformed, Pepe was ushered straight to the first team. Just one season later, he swapped clubs again. This time he moved to Lille. Last season, he was the standout performer in a poor Great Danes’ side that flirted with relegation.

 

How does Pepe compare with Hazard?

Similar to Hazard, Pepe operates primarily from the right, albeit, adept on the middle too. Although not exactly in the same skilful league as the Belgium, he is a different kind of player. Pretty more direct and precise, Pepe prefers to use his stamina to work.

Both can perform agic with their feet, though. They have the inert ability to drive defences with the speed of light, bamboozling players around before slotting the ball home.

At 6ft tall, Pepe is a more dangerous presence in the box, providing a direct threat himself or laying on chances for others to finish. Hazard, meanwhile, diminutive fray doesn’t allow him throw himself during set pieces.

Pepe has enjoyed a blistering start to the Ligue 1 season with Lille. He has scored eight goals and laced five others in 13 Ligue 1 games, including a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Amiens.

Pepe’s tally of 13 combined goals and assists is, in fact, two more than Hazard’s 11.

 

Written by Toby Prince

Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby

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