Liverpool moved back to the top of the Premier League with a win against Sunderland but could face a run of games without Philippe Coutinho who was taken off on a stretcher at Anfield.
The Brazillian clutched his ankle after a challenge from Didier Ndong late in a first half where Liverpool failed to turn 80% possession into clear chances.
Sunderland threatened briefly in each period, with Steven Pienaar and Duncan Watmore taking heavy touches when presented with openings.
But as Jurgen Klopp’s side continued to press, it was Coutinho’s replacement, Divock Origi, who found the net with what appeared to be a right-foot cross from the left side of the area.
Relive Liverpool’s win over Sunderland
Coutinho suffers injury
It sparked relief at Anfield and when Ndong felled Sadio Mane in the box, James Milner converted a spot-kick to make it 14 games unbeaten in all competitions for the Reds.
Chelsea will move back to the top of the table should they beat Tottenham in Saturday’s late kick-off but Liverpool have clear momentum and last tasted defeat in the Premier League in August.
Klopp’s demand for more answered
Coutinho’s injury, coupled with admirable Sunderland resistance, kept Anfield quiet for long spells.
Klopp clearly banks on Anfield being an intimidating place to visit and a return of 16 points from 18 available at home this season points to him getting his wish.
But he was visibly frustrated early in the second half when he waved to the Kop and demanded more from supporters.
Sunderland created their best opening moments later when Liverpool keeper Loris Karius dived at Watmore’s feet to block and Victor Anichebe’s shot in the following melee was cleared.
But Liverpool’s positivity was undeniable, with full-backs Milner and Nathaniel Clyne playing high up the pitch, Emre Can repeatedly joining attacks and even centre-back Joel Matip spending long spells in midfield.
They missed chances through a Dejan Lovren header and a Georginio Wijnaldum volley. But with a touch of fortune, Origi’s in-swinging cross nestled in the corner and Milner’s penalty was emphatic.
With no European football to distract them, Liverpool look well placed to make a push for the title. Klopp called for more from players and fans against Sunderland. He got it, but can all parties keep delivering?
A win at a cost?
How Liverpool deal with a potential lay-off for Coutinho will be critical in whether their momentum can lead to a push for an elusive Premier League title.
His contribution of five goals and six assists in the league sums up the key role he has under Klopp and his all-round displays have seen reports of interest from Barcelona.
Against David Moyes’ side Coutinho seemed to be man-marked early on. When he escaped the attentions of Jason Denayer after half an hour he took a heavy touch in the area and felt the full force of Ndong’s clearance.
There was no suggestion of a foul but Coutinho’s foot took the impact of both the ball and Ndong’s follow-through, and he instantly waved to the bench before grimacing during treatment.
Origi’s impact points to Liverpool having the resources to deal with any spell out for Coutinho. But with Mane primed to attend the African Cup of Nations with Senegal in January, Klopp will desperately hope he has not lost arguably his most creative force for long.
‘The most defensive team I ever saw’
Moyes had spoken of “parking the double decker bus at Anfield” and for long spells that tactic was deployed.
But Sunderland – 19th in the table – clearly had confidence as a result of back-to-back wins and they threatened early on, notably when Pienaar’s heavy touch gave Karius the chance to save.
Frustratingly for their travelling contingent, the Black Cats dropped deep after half an hour and never really established a footing again. Denayer played the full match in midfield yet made just seven passes. He perhaps summed up Sunderland’s retreat.
“This was the most defensive team I ever saw in my life,” said Klopp afterwards.
Man of the match – Jordan Henderson
What the managers said
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: “It was an intense game for us and a deserved win at the end. Sunderland always play a defensive style and that is OK. We forced them to be that. It is the most difficult thing in world football to come through but we stayed concentrated, worked for the moment and found a way.”
Sunderland manager David Moyes: “I thought we had done enough to keep them out. But overall we worked very hard to stay in the game. We were never going to come here and have lots of chances so it was always going to be tough. But we weren’t going to be rolled over and we weren’t.”
Stats – Origi the super-sub
- Five of Divock Origi’s six Premier League goals for Liverpool have come as a substitute.
- Only Burnley (19.6%) have posted a lower possession figure than Sunderland (22.5%) in a Premier League game this season [both v Liverpool].
- Klopp named an unchanged starting line-up in the Premier League for the first time since October 2015 [previously 40 games without doing so].
- Jordan Henderson (117) completed 100 or more passes for the third time in a Premier League game this season; he’s the only player to do so on more than one occasion.
Liverpool host Leeds in the EFL Cup before travelling to Bournemouth next Sunday, while Sunderland have a week of rest before entertaining league champions Leicester – who are now just four points better off then them.
Match ends, Liverpool 2, Sunderland 0.
Second Half ends, Liverpool 2, Sunderland 0.
Substitution, Liverpool. Ben Woodburn replaces Georginio Wijnaldum.
Attempt missed. Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Lucas Leiva.
Goal! Liverpool 2, Sunderland 0. James Milner (Liverpool) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the bottom left corner.
Penalty Liverpool. Sadio Mané draws a foul in the penalty area.
Penalty conceded by Didier Ndong (Sunderland) after a foul in the penalty area.
Foul by Divock Origi (Liverpool).
John O’Shea (Sunderland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Liverpool. Lucas Leiva replaces Roberto Firmino.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Patrick van Aanholt.
Attempt blocked. Emre Can (Liverpool) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jordan Henderson.
Dejan Lovren (Liverpool) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Victor Anichebe (Sunderland).
Attempt blocked. Emre Can (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Divock Origi.
Substitution, Sunderland. Adnan Januzaj replaces Duncan Watmore.
Substitution, Sunderland. Lynden Gooch replaces Steven Pienaar.
Attempt missed. Joel Matip (Liverpool) header from very close range is too high. Assisted by James Milner with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Billy Jones.
Goal! Liverpool 1, Sunderland 0. Divock Origi (Liverpool) right footed shot from the left side of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Jordan Henderson.
Attempt blocked. Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Lamine Koné.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Jason Denayer.
Attempt blocked. Sadio Mané (Liverpool) right footed shot from the left side of the six yard box is blocked. Assisted by Dejan Lovren.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Lamine Koné.
Attempt missed. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is too high from a direct free kick.
Steven Pienaar (Sunderland) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Sadio Mané (Liverpool) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Steven Pienaar (Sunderland).
Attempt blocked. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Emre Can.
Attempt blocked. Victor Anichebe (Sunderland) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. Patrick van Aanholt (Sunderland) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Dejan Lovren (Liverpool) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Dejan Lovren (Liverpool).
Patrick van Aanholt (Sunderland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt missed. Emre Can (Liverpool) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right.
John O’Shea (Sunderland) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Divock Origi (Liverpool) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by John O’Shea (Sunderland).
Corner, Sunderland. Conceded by Joel Matip.