Liverpool left it late at Anfield as Divock Origi’s solo strike broke Sunderland’s resilience before James Milner’s late penalty wrapped up the points.
The Reds dominated proceedings on Merseyside but David Moyes’ side did create chances, with the home side frustrated at the break as the resilient Black Cats battled tirelessly.
Roberto Firmino, Georgino Wijnaldum and Emre Can all went close following the restart as Jurgen Klopp’s side cranked up the pressure, and with 14 minutes remaining it finally told as Divock Origi – on for the injured Philippe Coutinho after 32 minutes – caressed the ball beyond Jordan Pickford.
Moyes made a double change following the opener with Adnan Januzaj and Lynden Gooch added to Sunderland’s attacking options, but there was no way back as Milner’s late spot kick ensured a positive performance yielded little reward for the Lads.
Sunderland made two changes to the side who defeated Hull City last weekend and both were enforced.
John O’Shea came into the side 10 seasons after his last-minute winner broke Anfield hearts and sent Manchester United on their way to the title, with Steven Pienaar restored to the starting XI as Paddy McNair and Papy Djilobodji missed out through injury and suspension respectively.
A scintillating start on Merseyside saw both sides display their intent, with Patrick van Aanholt unable to conjure an opening despite being afforded time and space on multiple occasions.
The Reds also enjoyed time on the ball with their versatile front three, comprising of Sadio Mane, Coutinho and Firmino, teasing the Black Cats defence on the edge of the box.
And it was Firmino who mustered the first attempt on goal, albeit a tame one, as his low effort whistled into the hands of Jordan Pickford.
The game opened up following the 15-minute mark as former Newcastle United midfielder Wijnaldum turned on a six-pence before testing Pickford, but the Reds were soon under pressure at the opposite end as the Black Cats purred forward.
Trying and failing to set the offside trap, Liverpool were undone as Pienaar took down Billy Jones’ long ball over the top before being closed down by Loris Karius who diverted the ball wide.
Firmino and Wijnaldum both flashed efforts off target as Klopp’s side started to control the ball, but the Black Cats were well orgainised at the back and the German boss was dealt a big blow on 34 minutes as Coutinho was stretched off.
Jason Denayer had been tasked with man-marking the departed Brazilian and the midfielder did an exemplary job, but the arrival of his international team-mate Divock Origi posed a new threat.
And it was the Belgian’s play which led to the best opening of the opening 45 minutes, with Dejan Lovren guiding a free header wide at the back post as the Kop became increasingly frustrated.
The pressure continued to mount as Liverpool laid siege to the Sunderland defence, but it remained goalless at the interval as Lovren’s 30-yard strike whistled past the post and yielded the half-time whistle.
Moyes’ side remained firmly under the cosh during the opening stages of the second period as Liverpool continued to turn the screw.
Firmino remained at the forefront flashing the ball across goal following tidy play from academy graduate Jordan Henderson, with Wijnaldum producing a similar moment seconds later following superb innovation from Emre Can.
A fleeting moment of offensive play saw Liverpool scampering back as the Black Cats broke in numbers, but after great hold-up play from Anichebe the move broke down as van Aanholt’s wayward pass gifted possession to the Reds.
And it didn’t take long for Klopp’s side to roar forward once more and descend on an expectant Kop, with Firmino jinxing inside before forcing Pickford into a low stop at his near post.
With frustration growing amongst the home fans Klopp took it upon himself to lift the Kop, swirling his hands round and round while screaming ‘come on’.
But although it lifted the noise levels inside the stadium the outcome was the same as Liverpool piled forward once more, with Can clattering half-volley wide from 16 yards.
Openings were few and far between for the Black Cats but expert hold-up play from Anichebe engineered an opening on 68 minutes, but after cushioning the ball into Duncan Watmore’s path the winger’s heavy touch allowed Karius a chance to pounce.
Moments later, the Lads were punished.
Pickford was once again commanding and he did brilliantly to thwart Liverpool from four consecutive corners, but he was powerless to prevent the opener as Origi curled the ball beyond his reach and into the corner.
A double change followed as Adnan Januzaj and Lynden Gooch entered the fray in an attempt to salvage a point, but it wasn’t to be for the Black Cats as Milner’s penalty ensured a win for the home side.
Liverpool: Karius, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner, Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum (Woodburn 90), Coutinho (Origi 34), Firmino, Mane.
Subs not used: Mignolet, Klavan, Moreno, Leiva, Ejaria.
Sunderland: Pickford, Jones, O’Shea, Kone, van Aanholt, Denayer, Ndong, Pienaar (Gooch 79), Watmore (Januzaj 79), Anichebe, Defoe.
Subs not used: Mannone, Larsson, Khazri, Manquillo, Love.