Chris Young column: Jermain Defoe might go in January, but should he start the derby?

Jermain Defoe
Jermain Defoe
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The two-month gap until the January transfer window must feel like a tormenting long stretch in front of Sam Allardyce.

For all Allardyce may publicly claim that he has one-eyed vision on performances and results, he will inevitably have been musing on potential targets ever since agreeing terms with Ellis Short.

Doubtless, some of the succession of current or former West Ham players who have been linked with Sunderland over the last fortnight, will have crossed Allardyce’s mind.

Judging by the opening nine games, Sunderland are going to require reinforcements to beat the drop too.

At the back, in particular, that pit-of-the-stomach fear about a clanger never being too far away continues, even if Sunderland were more resilient in Allardyce’s opening game in charge.

But what about January exits?

There will surely have to be departures if Sunderland are to alter the make-up of their squad after teetering on the brink of the wage limits set by the Premier League at the conclusion of the summer recruitment drive.

If Sunderland offload Jermain Defoe – just 12 months after he penned a three-and-a-half year deal at the Stadium of Light – they would instantly remove a sizeable salary from the books.

Despite Defoe’s goalscoring record (and Sunderland’s evident problems in that department) it’s looking an increasingly plausible scenario.

The speculation about a January departure has already begun – former club Bournemouth again linked – after similar whispers during the summer, when there was always a suspicion that Dick Advocaat could wave goodbye if Sunderland received a suitable offer.

Advocaat just couldn’t square Defoe with his favoured 4-3-3 set-up. He thought (probably rightly) that the 33-year-old was purely a 4-4-2 striker.

Eventually, Advocaat abandoned using Defoe as either a lone striker or makeshift winger altogether and put him on the bench.

Allardyce will have to solve a conundrum that neither of his two predecessors could answer, if he is to incorporate Defoe in his starting XI.

If not... well, Defoe made his position crystal clear earlier this week.

“At the age of 33, you want to play football,” he said. “I didn’t come here to sit on the bench.”

But whether Allardyce’s January planning is in its teething stages or already beginning to gather momentum, it’s not the pressing issue.

Sunderland’s search for a Premier League win is beginning to resemble a dehydrated crawl through the desert in search of a few drops of water. They’re at desperation point.

Even though he spurned glorious opportunities against former clubs Spurs and Bournemouth, Defoe is a born and bred match-winner, as he proved so spectacularly in last season’s Wear-Tyne derby with a goal for the ages.

Because of that, does Allardyce have to find a place for the England international in his starting XI on Sunday?

(Puffs out cheeks) that’s a tough, tough call for Allardyce to make.

After packing his midfield at West Brom last weekend, Allardyce will surely be a touch more adventurous at home, particularly given Sunderland’s plight at the basement.

Jeremain Lens’ return from suspension provides an obvious attack-minded change that Allardyce can make, regardless of whether Ola Toivonen can shake off the groin strain which kept him sidelined at the Hawthorns.

But to include Defoe, Allardyce would surely have to abandon the 4-3-3 set-up which Sunderland have used for the majority of the last two years, and go back to an orthodox 4-4-2.

That didn’t do Newcastle any harm last weekend when the strike partnership of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez were given a platform to expose the deficiencies in the Norwich defence, even if the Magpies rode their luck at the other end.

Steve McClaren is unlikely to persist with such an open set-up this weekend, with Perez probably moving into a wide role in a five-man midfield.

If that happens, does Allardyce run the risk of being outnumbered in the middle of the park by leaving Lee Cattermole and Yann M’Vila to patrol there in a 4-4-2?

But while Allardyce is rightly eager to strengthen Sunderland’s defence, the Black Cats have not been particularly good at keeping things tight so far this season.

Sunderland were at their best in that first half against West Ham when they played at a lightning tempo and went for the jugular.

Do that in a derby, and you need someone who can keep their composure in front of goal. Have Sunderland got anyone better at that than Defoe?