Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is convinced the return of Raheem Sterling will give his side lift-off as they look to push for a European place in the second half of the Premier League season.
Sterling missed Liverpool's 1-0 win at Sunderland on Saturday after being rewarded for his tireless contribution over the Christmas period with a two-week break in the Caribbean.
But Rodgers believes the 20-year-old's scheduled comeback against Aston Villa next weekend will coincide with the start of a run-in which will end frustration over the Reds' relatively inconsistent start to the campaign.
Rodgers said: "I felt if we are going to get the best out of Raheem he is going to need a little bit of a rest and he will come back next week.
"The exciting thing is we have always been better in the second half of the season and that is the business end.
"We will get Raheem back fresh and (Daniel) Sturridge back fresh and we also have Adam Lallana to come back - so it is going the way I hoped it would."
A ninth minute goal from Lazar Markovic proved enough for Rodgers' men to win a largely forgettable encounter with the ailing Black Cats, whose woe was heightened by the 49th minute sending-off of Liam Bridcutt for two bookable offences.
Markovic almost added to his clinical opener when he fired another first half effort against the crossbar from long range, but Sunderland briefly rallied after the red card and Adam Johnson's rising 25-yard effort also struck the bar.
Markovic's impressive performance was another tonic for Rodgers who can see the return of his big names being backed up by the increasing confident performances of his new squad members.
"Lazar has been very, very good for us in the last six or seven weeks so it is just taking time," added Rodgers.
"Emre Can and Alberto Moreno have also taken time coming to a new country with a big spotlight on them because of what we did last year, but now they are starting to settle into the philosophy of how we play."
Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1 player ratings
Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1 player ratings
1/24 Costel Pantilimon - 6/10
Made a series of fine reaction saves as Liverpool peppered his area and could do little about Liverpool’s first-half goal.
2/24 Santiago Vergini - 4
Needlessly gave away a free kick in a dangerous location on the half hour, lacked discipline and gave the ball away.
3/24 Wes Brown - 4
Struggled to deal with the pace of Liverpool’s runners getting in behind him; the referee should have given a penalty for his challenge on Markovic.
4/24 John O'Shea - 6
Dominant tackle on 24 minutes and looked a more authoritative presence than his colleague.
5/24 Patrick van Aanholt - 6
Could have done with more support from Johnson as he was overrun by Markovic, he did look more promising going forward.
6/24 Liam Bridcutt - 5
A solid enough presence in front of the defence but should have known better than to bring down Can on the right flank, earning him a red card.
7/24 Emmanuel Giaccherini - 5
A non-entity going forward who provided next to no support in defence, he did too little to ever worry Sakho.
8/24 Sebastian Larsson - 5
Tough in the tackle but his usually excellent set-piece delivery was lacking and in open play he sent the ball back to his defence too often.
9/24 Jordi Gomez - 5
Hustled off the ball too easily, he failed to keep possession or move the ball out wide. A disappointing performance from the man tasked with being his side’s creative fulcrum.
10/24 Adam Johnson - 6
After a quiet first half came into the game after the red card, taking on defenders and nearly scoring with a swerving 25-yarder.
11/24 Connor Wickham - 5
Skilful on the ball but offered so little movement off it that Liverpool’s defence had few problems from him.
12/24 Simon Mignolet - 5
Exceptionally lucky not to have been humiliated when he completely misread a Johnson shot in what was otherwise a quiet game.
13/24 Emre Can - 7
A brilliant pass set Borini through on goal, looked confident both in defence and midfield.
14/24 Mamadou Sakho - 6
Never looks entirely sure of himself and was prone to the odd careless moment, but moved the ball well.
15/24 Martin Skrtel - 6
He could have dealt with Wickham on his own without the need for another two centre-backs, a comfortable game.
16/24 Lazar Markovic - 8
He was at the heart of everything good about Liverpool, an energetic presence on the right flank, pressing high up the pitch and getting in goal-scoring positions.
17/24 Jordan Henderson - 6
His late runs into dangerous areas made him a constant threat to Sunderland but he might have done better in front of goal.
18/24 Lucas Leiva - 6
The midfield anchorman seemed unnecessary when Sunderland showed so little ambition, he kept the ball well.
19/24 Steven Gerrard - 5
A strange performance by the captain. He got himself in the right positions but always seemed to scuff the ball or make the wrong decision.
20/24 Alberto Moreno - 6
A solid performance shuttling up and down the left flank, though most of Liverpool’s success came on the other flank.
21/24 Philippe Coutinho - 7
A superb lofted through ball to Henderson that could have led to a goal was one of many in another good creative performance.
22/24 Fabio Borini - 5
Missing an open goal after an excellent run took him past the keeper perfectly summarises a performance, and Liverpool career, that never really got going.
23/24 Dejan Lovren - 6
Could not have asked for a more comfortable return to the Liverpool side, Sunderland offered little to threaten the Croat.
24/24 Mario Balotelli - 5
The Italian striker may find that first Premier League goal easier to find if he stops forcing it, he was always looking to score when his colleagues were better placed.
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet insisted he is "not concerned" by his side's appalling home form, which has yielded a single victory in the top flight so far this season - but is frustrated by his inability to get his best out of his players.
Poyet said: "I am disappointed because I thought by now I would have a better impact on how the team plays but unfortunately I was wrong.
"It is getting more difficult than what I thought. Some players are taking longer to do the basics and we need to do more work. It is too easy to blame somebody else - it is about selecting better and making sure most are back (from injury)."
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