Fernando Torres scored twice as Liverpool swept aside Sunderland to maintain hopes of a top-four finish.
Torres opened the scoring with a spectacular strike in only the third minute, cutting inside Michael Turner and curling a shot into the top corner.
Glen Johnson added a second with a shot that deflected off Turner then turned provider for Torres to hook home again.
Craig Gordon saved well from Daniel Agger and Maxi Rodrigues to maintain some respectability for Sunderland. Liverpool had laid down their intentions in the very first minute, Craig Gordon reacting smartly to beat away Agger's volley after Dirk Kuyt had flicked on a Steven Gerrard free-kick.
It was an early sign of things to come and Liverpool opened their account in magnificent style as Torres stamped an instant hallmark of quality on the game.
Goalkeeper Pepe Reina found the striker out wide on the left and Torres cut inside Michael Turner before bending a delightful shot beyond the reach of Gordon and into the top right corner of the Sunderland net.
Torres' wonder strike was followed by a procession of Liverpool chances, as Torres, Gerrard and Agger (twice) all shot wide and Javier Mascherano's drive was spectacularly repelled by Kieran Richardson's diving header.
As well as some wasteful Liverpool finishing, Sunderland fans were also grateful for some heroics from keeper Gordon, who brilliantly pushed away Maxi Rodriguez's header from a Gerrard corner.
But the keeper was beaten again on 32 minutes when defender Johnson's fine first touch earned him a yard of space inside Steed Malbranque and set up a left-foot shot that deflected wickedly off the knee of Turner and beyond Gordon's reach.
It could have been so much worse for Sunderland in a first half totally dominated by a Liverpool team oozing with the confidence that had been so starkly absent in the first half of the season.
The performance was perfectly precised by a glorious Liverpool move five minutes before the break that saw them sweep across the pitch and set up Torres for a shot that smacked against a post, the Spaniard scuffing the rebound wide.
In contrast, Sunderland managed only a single attempt on goal in the first half, an innocent Jordan Henderson shot flying harmlessly wide, and it was five minutes into the first half before the visitors forced their first corner.
Gerrard was at the fulcrum of Liverpool's overwhelming dominance, with Torres the chief outlet, and only a fine last-gasp block from substitute Paulo Da Silva denied Torres his second following a move driven by Gerrard and involving another forward burst from the rampaging Johnson.
But Sunderland's partial resistance was ended on the hour when Johnson again claimed the assist for Torres to score his second.
Johnson looked certain to shoot as the ball sat up for him on the edge of the box, but he instead rolled a pass into the path of Torres, who calmly hooked past a prostrate Gordon and into an empty net.
The last time these sides met, Sunderland secured victory with a Darren Bent shot that deflected in off a beach ball, but not even that type of bizarre intervention could have saved the Black Cats here.
In fact, for the best part it was a case of damage limitation for Steve Bruce's side as Liverpool totally dominated.
Only the departure of Torres, Gerrard and Kuyt spared Sunderland further pain as Liverpool eased off towards the end and former Anfield favourite Bolo Zenden nearly grabbed a late consolation for Sunderland after coming off the bench to provide Reina with his only test of the afternoon.
The Spaniard was equal to the effort though, reacting smartly to keep out Zenden's right-foot drive and preserve a three-goal margin of victory that, in all honesty, flattered Sunderland.
|Attempts on Target||Attempts on Target|
|Attempts off Target||Attempts off Target|
|Yellow Cards||Yellow Cards|
Team Line-ups and Substitutions
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Agger, Carragher, Insua, Mascherano, Gerrard (El Zhar 81), Kuyt (Aquilani 70), Babel, Rodriguez, Torres (N'Gog 78).
Subs not Used: Cavalieri, Benayoun, Lucas, Kyrgiakos. .
Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, Turner, Ferdinand, Malbranque (Jones 51), Richardson, Henderson (Zenden 78), Cana, Cattermole (Da Silva 46), Campbell, Bent.
Subs not Used: Carson, Kilgallon, Liddle, Mwaruwari .
Ref: Phil Dowd