The Reds returned to the top of the table with a 1-0 victory over David Moyes’ side, but lost Philippe Coutinho to injury at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.
It was the result Liverpool had wanted, toiled for, and been patient enough to force. Sunderland’s “double-decker bus” had its tyres punctured by a curler into the far post by Divock Origi, before James Milner drove a dent into it from the penalty spot.
The Reds, who are now 14 games unbeaten on the spin, made sure they did the business and the sense of triumph after dismantling an approach which is the antithesis of theirs was strong. But as temperature dropped to below freezing, there was a bittersweet feeling about proceedings on Saturday afternoon.
Liverpool had won, but lost their star performer in the process – Philippe Coutinho needing to be carried off the pitch in the first half, and the nail-biting over his diagnosis will be frantic.
The afternoon had started and ended gloriously – sunshine wrapped the sky and Steven Gerrard, who called time on his playing career this week, was back home at Anfield to watch his side regain top spot in the Premier League.
News that 17-year-old Ben Woodburn had made the bench was also a source of delight, while captain Jordan Henderson was marking his 250th career league appearance against his boyhood club.
But the mood darkened on Merseyside around the half-hour mark as Coutinho’s face was painted with agony. The Brazilian writhed around the Sunderland box with his hand on his right foot and his head on the turf.
The 24-year-old’s ankle had been caught by Didier Ndong as the Gabon international cleared a Liverpool opportunity and he had to be stretchered off with his hurt leg in a protective brace.
The injury unsettled the hosts, with the Reds off colour until just before the break, when they reclaimed more control.
Having started effervescently, with Roberto Firmino and Gini Wijnaldum having early opportunities, the fizzle faded following the setback.
Dejan Lovren had a header as well as a shot from distance that both went wide, with Liverpool upping the ante after the break.
Firmino, Emre Can and Sadio Mane all went close, before Origi made his effort count. The Belgian, who replaced Coutinho, received the ball on the left, created space for himself with fine footwork and got the better of Jordan Pickford.
Ndong clumsily caught Mane in the area during injury time, with James Milner continuing his flawless record from the spot for Liverpool.
Attention will now turn to the club’s two-time Player of the Season, Coutinho, who has been so pivotal to their bulldozing start to the campaign – and will be instrumental to their title ambitions.