But as the visitors discovered during another difficult trip, Liverpool have the ability to perform in a manner far superior to the laboured display they delivered at the Stadium of Light in October when a Darren Bent shot deflected off a stray inflatable for the only goal.
When Rafa Benitez's side play like this it illustrates just what a wasted opportunity this season has been, and makes the difficulties they have experienced for so much of the campaign all the more puzzling.
High riser: Fernando Torres rifles in his 17thy of the season
They were terrific, dominating Sunderland with a devastating blend of fast, fluent football that was as classy as it was creative. That should have improved their goal difference a good deal more than it did and this will be Benitez's only regret.
Three could have been seven or eight, with Fernando Torres scoring two quite brilliant goals but squandering too many opportunities one would expect him to take.
Afterwards Torres stressed how important it was to maintain this form and Benitez needs to realise how crucial it is that he encourages the rest of his players to perform like this for the rest of the season.
The key on Sunday was a significant change in their approach; the deployment of two wingers in Maxi Rodriguez and Ryan Babel, a striker in Dirk Kuyt behind Torres and Steven Gerrard in the role he prefers.
When he is in central midfield with a holding player to do his dirty work, in this case Javier Mascherano, Gerrard thrives, even if he has occasionally impressed when positioned between two defensive midfielders and Torres
Red menace: Glen Johnson hit Liverpool's second
The result was a Liverpool team that was balanced and ambitious, and far too strong for a Sunderland side who really were awful.
Gerrard was terrific, and the good news for Fabio Capello is that Glen Johnson was, too. England's right back scored one and created another, providing Liverpool with a constant threat down his flank.
Benitez rejected the suggestion he too often deploys Gerrard in the wrong role.
'Steve can play in a number of positions,' he said. 'He plays very well for England on the left.'
Whether Liverpool can snatch that Champions League place they so desire remains to be seen, but they have a far easier run-in than their rivals in this most intriguing of races for fourth place.
They might have played an extra game but Tottenham have to face Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in the space of 10 days while Manchester City have to meet United, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Tottenham.
After that crushing defeat at United, this will have restored much-needed confidence in Liverpool's ranks.
Three and easy: Torres fires his second of the game
The third-minute goal from Torres brought the whole of Anfield to their feet, so stunning was it in its execution. Sunderland manager Steve Bruce called it a 'wonder goal' and rightly so. It was superb, the Spaniard stepping off the left flank before unleashing a shot that flew between Michael Turner and Lorik Cana, dipped over a diving Craig Gordon and somehow squeezed into top corner.
Mascherano then went close but Liverpool wasted five more clear-cut chances before Johnson extended their lead in the 32nd minute. Torres shot wide after a delightful one-two between Gerrard and Rodriguez.
MATCH FACTS LIVERPOOL (4-4-1-1): Reina 7; Johnson8, Carragher 7, Agger 7, Insua 7;Rodriguez 7, Gerrard 8 (El Zhar 81min,6), Mascherano 7, Babel 6; Kuyt 7(Aquilani 71, 6); Torres 8 (Ngog 78, 6).
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Gordon 7; Bardsley 5, Turner 5, Ferdinand 5, Richardson 5; Henderson 6 (Zenden 78 6), Cattermole 6 (Da Silva 46, 6), Cana 6,Malbranque 6 (Jones 52, 5); Bent 5, Campbell 5.Booked: Bent.
Man of the match: Glen Johnson.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Gerrard was narrowly off-target after another one-two with the Argentina international and Daniel Agger and Rodriguez also went close, although Gordon did continue to impress in the Sunderland goal with some first-class saves.
There was nothing, however, he could do when a powerful left-foot strike from Johnson took a nasty deflection off Turner and flew into his net and he was just as helpless when Torres scored his second on the hour.
Benitez said he enjoyed it as much as the first, and the way he controlled the pass from Johnson before delaying his shot to fool Sunderland's defenders was impressive.
'He showed great composure,' said delighted Benitez. Indeed he did. It only added to the misery for Bruce.
Liverpool need to improve their away form they have won just four times and scored only 13 goals but Sunderland's failure to win on their travels since the opening day of the season needs addressing.
'We took a real battering today,' said Bruce. 'But sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say we were beaten by a wonderful side.'
Bruce also took a battering, not least when the Kop compared his head to the aforementioned beach ball.
'I've had some great days here over the years but on this occasion I have to take my medicine and go home with my tail between my legs . and then try to come back with a smaller head!'
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