What will Gareth Southgate’s England side look like this week and can Jermain Defoe really push for World Cup selection?

The stats show Jermain Defoe should start for England
The stats show Jermain Defoe should start for England
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In what is one of the few positive storylines of a wretched season, Sunderland fans will experience the pride of seeing one of their one pull on the national jersey tonight.

Granted, Jermain Defoe is very much an adopted Mackem, but he has in many ways become the club’s foremost ambassador and most treasured asset.

Sunderland 0-0 Burnley FA Premier League Saturday 18th March 2017.  Picture by FRANK REID

Sunderland 0-0 Burnley FA Premier League Saturday 18th March 2017. Picture by FRANK REID

Just how big a role is Defoe likely to play over the coming week, however, and do his international aspirations really rest on his Black Cats future?

Back-up or genuine option?

England face two games this week, a friendly in Dortmund then a home qualifier with Lithuania on Sunday evening.

So is Defoe a genuine contender to play or is he simply making up the numbers?

There is a good reason to believe that he is firmly in Gareth Southgate’s thoughts to feature.

At 34 years old, a Premier League veteran, or ‘experienced’, as he joked he preferred on Monday, Defoe is not an unknown quantity. Were Southgate simply looking to take a look at a player and give them a taste of the squad environment, he may well have been tempted to bring the likes of Troy Deeney and Andre Gray into the fold.

An injury crisis has left him in need of a proven finisher at the highest level and able to make a difference should his side prove unable to break down Lithuania in particular.

Jamie Vardy’s recent good form will almost certainly make him the main man through the middle but for the time being at least, Defoe will be next in line.

Marcus Rashford is the only other recognised striker in the squad but for club and country he has been seen primarily as a wide option.

Raheem Sterling and Nathan Redmond are the only wingers in the squad and so Rashford is probably a back-up in this department.

What the England squad does have an abudnance of central midfield players.

Southgate will play three of those, Dele Alli or Ross Barkley likely to play off the centre forward.

The responsibility of the striker will be to play on the shoulder of the defence and be clinical, which clearly gives Defoe a big chance.

Can he really stake a claim for a 2018 spot?

The chances are slim but it is also true that Southgate’s front line is in a state of flux and there are no guarantees that many will be in pole position next summer.

Harry Kane will almost certainly lead the line, his burgeoning partnership with Dele Alli likely to be the bedrock of England’s attack for a generation.

After that, there are few certainties.

Vardy, probably.

Wayne Rooney may not still be a Premier League player, which would affect his chances. Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll will be in the mix but who can say with certainity that they will have had a full season under their belts given recent selection and injury issues?

What we know about Defoe is that through complete dedication and professionalism, age is in no way a barrier to his mobility or movement in a way it perhaps has for Rooney.

Given the level of his performances this campaign and the way he still attacks and exploits space in front of and behind opposition defences, it is inconceivable that he will have suffered significant decline in 12 months time.

Will he a Premier League first team regular?

That is the question at this stage impossible to answer. Sunderland fans are not naive and are well aware of the implications in this regard if the club is relegated.

They are also good enough football judges to know that wherever, Defoe will score goals next season. Full credit to Gareth Southgate for showing he will make a decision on that basis alone.