Back-to-back Premier League player of the month awards (only the fourth player to do so ever) and 16 top-flight goals in total. Mauricio Pochettino has certainly been rewarded for thrusting Harry Kane into the Tottenham starting XI.
For all of the stick that the Europa League gets for being a second-rate European competition, even if the winner does now get a spot in the following season’s Champions League, it has proved ideal surroundings for Kane to cut his teeth.
The 21-year-old only managed a total of 95 minutes across Spurs’ opening 10 Premier League encounters of the campaign as Pochettino persisted with Emmanuel Adebayor, but in the Europa League group stage, he only missed 13 minutes of action.
Eventually Kane eclipsed Adebayor altogether and hasn’t looked back. Since Spurs last played Manchester United in a goalless draw in late December, the ‘Hurricane’ has netted 11 goals in just nine Premier League fixtures.
It is 9/5 that Kane scores again inside the 90 minutes at Old Trafford and there is little to put punters off this bet.
With Robin van Persie out of the Spurs showdown because of an ankle ligament injury and Radamel Falcao out of form, even failing to impress in a recent under-21 outing, Man Utd are not exactly high on strikers at present.
Therefore, the stage is surely set for the Red Devils to steal the headlines from Spurs with the assistance of their own young striker that has worked his way through the club’s academy from his pre-teenage years.
James Wilson may only be 19, but his rise through the club and up the England international age groups has much in common with Kane.
Louis van Gaal has given Wilson some minor opportunities this season, with the striker playing a part in eight league matches of a 10-game stretch earlier in the campaign that started with Utd’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea.
However, a total of 49 minutes across their last 11 top-flight encounters indicates that Wilson has slipped back down the pecking order again of late.
The shock defeat in the Capital One Cup to MK Dons arguably robbed Wilson of the prospect of a run of first-team opportunities, but it is interesting that that Van Gaal has taken three points from the two fixtures when the teenager has started.
And there is a great feeling that Wilson’s pace is something that is not only lacking from the Red Devils’ attack, but the team in general.
It is no secret how Pochettino likes to set his team up tactically, with heavy pressure placed on the ball high up the pitch in the hope of winning back possession in the final third.
If Marcos Rojo fails to overcome a late fitness test, the left centre-back area that may have to be filled by Phil Jones is the ideal spot to pressurise.
Utd have won 13 and lost only four of the 21 games that Rojo has started this season, with three defeats and a reduced win rate of 24% from the fixtures he has missed.
The slow, risk-free passing of Daley Blind in midfield will also encourage Tottenham’s press and with Wayne Rooney tending to drop deep, rather than sit on the shoulder of the last defender, and Angel Di Maria being suspended, Spurs should be able to stay compact with a high defensive line.
Spurs are unbeaten in five Premier League meetings with Utd since March 2012 and if Van Gaal lines up as expected with Marouane Fellaini behind Wayne Rooney, the 5/6 on Tottenham to avoid defeat in the Double Chance market looks a shrewd bet.
Van Gaal is not going to change his mentality in terms of keeping possession, but what he could do to affect the game is start Wilson.
There has been a distinct lack of lateral movement at Old Trafford this season, with no attackers really willing to run in behind to stretch defences or drift into pockets of space from the wide areas to lose markers.
This has played its part in the slow build-up play and has predominantly ended with a longer ball being aimed at Fellaini to attempt to get possession in the final third.
If Tottenham press well and defend high without the threat of a ball over the top to keep them honest, Utd will struggle to target balls at Fellaini in dangerous areas of the pitch.
Wilson is the one player capable of changing all of this.
With him playing on the shoulder of the last man, Spurs may be forced to defend a little deeper, which will open up space in other areas of the pitch.
Rooney will be allowed more space between the lines, Fellaini can take up higher starting points to attempt to win headers and the press won’t be so severe on Daley Blind as he attempts to launch attacks from deep.
If Spurs don’t adapt and defend deeper, Wilson will have ample space to exploit in behind.
Wilson can be backed at 7/4 to score in the 90 minutes and has been on target in two of his last five Utd appearances.
With Kane in opposition, this fixture is prime for Wilson to endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful and provide the Red Devils with the component that their attacking play has been clearly lacking, especially since the turn of the year.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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