Fernando Torres stepped up with a late goal to ensure Liverpool started the season with a maximum 3 points after a drab lifeless affair at The Stadium of Light.
Sunderland had made the early running as Benitez opted to start with Plessis in favour of Alonso who had taken a knock mid-week, and also surprisingly with Hyypia ahead of Agger and Skrtel.
The reds had an enterprising opening 5 minutes but Sunderland quickly took control as the reds were hemmed further and further back. Gerrard was forced to help out at the back as Arbeloa looked to be having a poor start to his season.
As the first half ended the reds had improved with a number of free kick opportunities and countless corners landing their way, all the while as El Hadji Diouf moaned and cried his way through the game.
Liverpool had a good penalty shout when Benayoun was brought down inside the box, however the referee opted to award the reds a free kick for a foul a few seconds earlier outside the box.
In the second half the reds were improved as Benitez made an unusual half time substitution bringing on Alonso for Plessis, who had suffered a knock. The enforced substitution vastly improved the reds and Gerrard was brought more in to the game.
Alonso attempted one of his trademark 70 yard lobs when he spotted the keeper off his line but it went narrowly wide. Second later the Spaniard set up Fernando Torres who lashed home with 7 minutes left and cue wild celebration amongst the players and fans.
The game was scrappy, Liverpool looked toothless with Benayoun and Kuyt on the wings, but Fernando Torres yet again spared the reds blushes.
Fernando Torres scores the winner
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Dossena, Carragher, Hyypia, Plessis (Alonso 45), Gerrard, Kuyt, Benayoun (Aurelio 81), Torres, Keane (El Zhar 76).
Unused Subs: Cavalieri, Agger, Skrtel, NGog
Yellow Cards: Arbeloa, El Zhar