Christian Benteke’s second half goal proved to be enough for Liverpool to end 2015 with a victory at the Stadium of Light, and plunged Sunderland deeper into trouble.
Liverpool began this game on the back of a 1-0 victory at home to Leicester at the weekend, and Jurgen Klopp had named an unchanged side, however Divock Origi began his time on the sidelines, following a sustained injury in the home victory over the Foxes’ on Saturday. Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce made a host of changes, as John O’Shea, Jordi Gomez, Danny Graham and Steven Fletcher were left out of the side, with Jermain Defoe returning to the Black Cats’ front line.
In a timid affair, Liverpool had dominated possession in the early stages, but it was Sunderland that started the brightest.
Liverpool’s backline was nervous, and Sunderland almost had an opening when Jermain Defoe skipped inside the area, but failed to get a shot out in front of a packed Reds’ defence.
However, Liverpool did have chances of their own early on, as a blunder from ex-Red Sebastian Coates fell to Philipe Coutinho, who then set up fellow Brazilian Roberto Firmino, who skewed the ball out of play with his knee.
The Reds’ continued to press high up the pitch and adopt the philosophy known as gegenpressing, but it was the hosts who created the better clear-cut chances.
Jermain Defoe, starting as Sunderland’s striker, created the best opportunity of the evening, forcing Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet into a fantastic save. Defoe received a pass, swivelled and from a long way out drove a shot into the top corner which Mignolet had to palm over.
Moments later, the visitors were awash with celebration as Philipe Coutinho’s free kick brushed the roof of the net. To their disbelief, however the scores remained deadlocked. Roberto Firmino later in the half hit the crossbar from 25 yards, having got a touch from Sunderland keeper Vito Mannone.
Sam Allardyce was then forced into something they did not want to do: a substitution before the interval. Jack Rodwell obtained an injury in the 30th minute, making way for young Duncan Watmore.
Firmino, then showed his first aerial threat to Sunderland’s back line, glancing a powerful header which Vito Mannone parried away from eight yards.
Straight away after the interval began, Liverpool took the lead as Christian Benteke latched onto a flick from Adam Lallana and slotted the ball past Mannone, barely a minute after half time was over.
Sunderland responded well, however as Fabio Borini skipped past two or three defenders, but his shot was straight at Belgian keeper Mignolet.
The injury list then compounded for Sam Allardyce, who also lost Sebastian Coates, a second player from the game and was replaced by Deandre Yedlin, causing rotations at the back for the Black Cats.
To Sunderland’s credit, however they persevered and could have even equalised late on as Ducan Watmore pounced on a indifferent clearance from Roberto Firmino, but his effort was blocked.
Jurgen Klopp was raging on the touchline as a mistimed and awful tackle from Sunderland Dutch midfielder Jermain Lens on Mamadou Sakho left the Frenchman requiring treatment. Lens received a yellow, but Klopp believed he deserved a red card. Sakho played on, but the German boss was still incensed, and rightly so.
If Liverpool craved the second, they had two glorious opportunities at the end to snatch the victory: first Jordon Ibe who came on as a substitute blazed over from 8 yards, whilst Christian Benteke, one on one had his shot saved by Vito Mannone.
Sunderland, however failed to capitalise and Liverpool gratefully snatched the three points.
Liverpool will have the opportunity to continue their two-match winning run away at West Ham on Saturday (lunchtime), whilst Sunderland face another home fixture against fellow strugglers Aston Villa on the same day.