Kuyt confident despite Euro flop

Dirk Kuyt insists Liverpool will put their unimpressive UEFA Champions League showing behind them when Rafa Benitez's side launch their Premier League campaign at Sunderland on Saturday.

The eagerly-awaited first competitive pairing of Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane in Liverpool's attack fell flat, as Benitez's men were held to a goalless draw against Standard Liege in Wednesday's third qualifying round, first leg.

Benitez admitted his side were "lucky" to escape defeat in Belgium, but Kuyt believes there is no need for concern and is confident the team will respond with a win against Sunderland.

The Netherlands striker said: "We know it was not our best game. But we want to step things up and we know there is quality in the team, we have shown that in pre-season and now we must show it in competitive matches, too. We have some big games coming up. So we must not play like this again. We are looking forward to Saturday and the first league game at Sunderland, to show who we are and what we are.

"As for the Champions League, fortunately we are still in the tie, but we definitely have to show better form than we showed in Liege. We need to score, we have to play better and we will."

Liverpool fans do not need reminding that it is 18 years since the club last won the title. They launched last season with a 14-match unbeaten start, yet still finished 11 points adrift of champions Manchester United.

The arrival of Republic of Ireland striker Keane from Tottenham has led some to predict that this could be their season, but Sunderland manager Roy Keane does not believe that is the case. Keane tips Chelsea to finish on top, but remains an admirer of Liverpool, who he regards as a template for the type of club he is trying to build at the Stadium of Light.

I can't speak highly enough of Liverpool, a great club with a great manager and a great history
Sunderland coach Roy Keane on first-day opponents Liverpool

"This is where we want to be," he said. "."

Keane maintains that the pairing of Keane and Torres will improve Liverpool's prospects. He said: "They will be a real handful playing together. I think Liverpool will go close and I'm sure they'd like to think they'd go closer than the last few years.

"That's why they've bought Robbie. That's why they're trying to bring players like Gareth Barry to their club, really good players who know the Premiership inside out.

"But it's Chelsea for me this year. I always felt that Manchester United would do it last season, but I fancy Chelsea this time because there's no African Nations Cup and they have a new manager who has bought one or two new players. If United get a top, top striker then they have a chance, but my gut feeling this year would be Chelsea."

Steven Gerrard could return to skipper Liverpool after recovering from a groin injury, but Ryan Babel (Netherlands), Javier Mascherano (Argentina) and Lucas (Brazil) are representing their countires at the Olympics.

Keane has invested in experienced players such as Teemu Tainio, Steed Malbranque, Pascal Chimbonda and El Hadji Diouf, who will all start against Liverpool, since last season's flirt with relegation. Sunderland will be without the injured Kenwyne Jones and Dwight Yorke, but Michael Chopra can play because a suspension does not start until after their game at Tottenham.

Keane said: "With the quality we've got now, particularly going forward, we hope we can cause them a few problems. We have a tough start to the season, but it doesn't really bother me when we play the bigger teams. We started with a tough one last season and did all right. Liverpool will have a few players making their debuts too, so it might be a good time to catch them."