The Reds lost just twice in the league last term as they pushed Manchester United right until the final weeks, but their tame 2-0 reverse at Chelsea a fortnight ago has left pundits and punters alike wondering aloud whether the men from Merseyside can match it with their Big Four rivals.
Now, with an international break full of worry and contemplation behind him, Rafael Benitez leads his troops to Sunderland hoping to blast away the critics - but that could be easier said than done, especially given the news surrounding his captain and his star striker.
For so long the quintessential 'yo-yo' club, Steve Bruce's crew look like they may have finally got the hang of this top-flight business. The Black Cats sit eighth in the standings, just two points and as many places behind their visitors this weekend.
Thus, a win for the hosts would see them leapfrog the Reds in the standings - and they won't be short on confidence, as they were desperately unlucky not to claim all three points at Manchester United last time out.
However, the two teams' prior meetings places the advantage firmly with Liverpool, who have won the last six encounters and haven't conceded against the Mackems since 2002.
Oct 3 Manchester United 2-2 Sunderland (Premier League)
Sep 27 Sunderland 5-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers (Premier League)
Sep 22 Sunderland 2-0 Birmingham City (League Cup)
Sep 19 Burnley 3-1 Sunderland (Premier League)
Sep 12 Sunderland 4-1 Hull City (Premier League)
Oct 4 Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool (Premier League)
Sep 29 Fiorentina 2-0 Liverpool (Champions League)
Sep 26 Liverpool 6-1 Hull City (Premier League)
Sep 22 Leeds United 0-1 Liverpool (League Cup)
Sep 19 West Ham United 2-3 Liverpool (Premier League)
The big news for the Black Cats is the acquisition of Boudewjin Zenden on a free transfer. With George McCartney (foot) in doubt, Kieran Richardson suspended and Paolo da Silva returning late from international duty, the Dutchman could line up at left-back against his former club - assuming his move is cleared in time.
There is also concern over the fitness of Kenwyne Jones, whose commitments with Trinidad & Tobago mean he won't land on Wearside until Friday afternoon. Should the striker not feature, Fraizer Campbell will step in.
Possible Starting XI: Gordon, Bardsley, Ferdinand, Turner, McCartney, Malbranque, Cattermole, Cana, Reid, Jones, Bent.
Superstar duo Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres both limped out of the international break with groin injuries. Both have undergone treatment and are in serious danger of missing the trip to Wearside.
Gerrard's absence could prove particularly troublesome, as midfielders Lucas Leiva and Javier Mascherano - along with Emiliano Insua - could be short on fitness upon their return from South America.
The news only gets worse for Benitez, with centre-back Sotiris Kyrgiakos facing at least five weeks out after damaging his knee in Greece's clash with Luxembourg. Daniel Agger, however, is ready to make his long-awaited return in defence, while Dirk Kuyt is reported to have shrugged off the ankle injury sustained in Australia.
Possible Starting XI: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Benayoun, Lucas, Mascherano, Riera, Babel, Kuyt.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sunderland - Darren Bent
The former Tottenham Hotspur striker was in blinding form prior to the international break, his strike at Old Trafford taking his season's tally to seven goals. He'll be fresh too, having somehow failed to worm his way into Fabio Capello's England squad.
Liverpool - Yossi Benayoun
With the prospect of both Torres and Gerrard sitting on the sidelines this Saturday, Yossi will become the Reds' go-to guy. The Israeli is one of those players who can make top-flight defenders look like Sunday League hacks, so the Black Cats' back line had better pay attention.