Liverpool are back. Not back to their peak, perhaps, although the last time Liverpool could call themselves the champions of England was almost a quarter of a century ago, but they are back to something like the best they have been under Brendan Rodgers.
Too many points have been lost, and too much ground conceded during their malaise since the departure of Luis Suarez for Liverpool to be part of the title race.
That ambition remains unfulfilled, yet there is much still for which to play – a League Cup semi-final against Chelsea, an FA Cup campaign and the one worth the most money – a top-four finish and access to the Champions League pot of gold.
Rodgers is on firm ground again and he can argue with some validity that the best is yet to come from his side. The summer signings are starting to settle and the performances of Lazar Markovic, in particular, are more than just encouraging.
The Serbian cost £20m from Benfica, but his only previous headline-grabbing moment came when sent off for poking a Basel player in the eye in a crucial Champions League group game.
Not any more. Markovic’s powerful running, intelligent use of the ball and his first Premier League goal, finishing well after a razor-sharp passing move, were all highlights of their win at the Stadium of Light.
“It is nothing that we haven’t seen before because he is a top young talent,” Rodgers said.
“It shows what a difficult league this is for any player to come into, let alone a very young player. Then add the fact that he is coming to one of the biggest clubs in the world.
“So it takes time, but a lot of our young players are starting to bed into our philosophy and the way we play. You will see them develop and come on a lot in the next six months. He has been pretty consistent.
“I had a chat with him a while ago about his aggression and he got sent off in the next game. But I want him to be aggressive with and without the ball. He is a talent.”
Rodgers also explained why he allowed Raheem Sterling to take a mid-season holiday in Jamaica.
Sterling missed last week’s FA Cup victory at AFC Wimbledon and was photographed on a Jamaican beach on the eve of Saturday’s match.
“After the World Cup I felt he needed a break, but we had the Champions League and a lot of games,” said Rodgers. “We had a plan that this was going to be the best time. The FA Cup and Sunderland were the two games I picked for him not to be involved in.”
Sterling played 38 times for Liverpool last season and has already been involved in 28 games in the current campaign. He played in all three of England’s matches at the World Cup in Brazil.
Rodgers added: “We have put so much on him since he has come into the team as a 17-year-old. He has not had a break and has progressed through to being a full international player.
“It is like anyone going for a holiday: you get one day off and you think it’s great. Footballers are no different. It is a great life, a wonderful job, but it is mental fitness to help him improve, as well as physical. I think it will give him that freshness that he needs. He will be back on Monday.”
Rodgers risked criticism if Liverpool had lost either fixture. That they did not meant he warmed to the theme.
“We will probably still be talking about a winter break in 100 years’ time,” he said.
“Adam Lallana is another one who has suffered. Will there ever be a break in British football? It would absolutely do every player a benefit.”
Sunderland’s problem is a lack of goals and, with Steven Fletcher absent through injury, they were both blunt and unimaginative in the final third.
Poyet is desperate for a new striker in this transfer window, although he must also take some of the blame.
His five-man midfield gives Sunderland resilience but, because of it, they rarely attack in vast numbers and, with Connor Wickham unable to hold the ball up at all against Liverpool, they made things far too easy for a suspect defence with a shaky goalkeeper, their former No 1, Simon Mignolet, behind it.
The closest they came to an equaliser was when they were down to 10 men following Liam Bridcutt’s sending off for a second bookable offence, Adam Johnson’s swerving shot beating Mignolet, but not the crossbar.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)