Liverpool were made to struggle before a late goal from Fernando Torres earned them a 1-0 win at Sunderland. The Spanish striker vowed to help the Reds win the Premier League after making a vital contribution to his country's UEFA EURO 2008 conquest, and he backed up his words with a well-taken winner in the 83rd minute of a game in which Roy Keane's side pressed their visitors back for long periods.
Liverpool were particularly stretched in the opening half, but exerted more pressure after the emergence of Xavi Alonso for the restart. These are early days, but this was not a performance to persuade neutrals that Liverpool are significantly better than last season.
Sunderland, however, looked a vastly-improved side and the early exchanges were certainly encouraging for their Keane, who fielded all of his significant signings, namely Teemu Tainio, Steed Malbranque, El-Hadji Diouf and Pascal Chimbonda. The quartet quickly settled into their manager's system, and Diouf could even have made a swift breakthrough. Only five minutes had gone when the Senegal international collected the ball just inside his former team's area, but his first touch was poor and gave Sami Hyypia the chance to smother his belated effort.
Kieran Richardson was also allowed space to surge forward five minutes later before powering a shot wide. Then Daryl Murphy should have done better in the 12th minute when he met Diouf's cross, but directed his header too close to keeper Pepe Reina from only eight yards.
Reds manager Rafa Benitez was anxiously sending out instructions from the touchline with only 15 minutes gone. But his words made little impact on the pattern of the match, and Diouf again worried Liverpool when his 26th-minute shot drifted wide.
Finally, though, Liverpool offered a glimpse of their class when Yossi Benayoun's control took him away from two challenges in the 33rd minute. The Israel international could have shot, but chose to set up Steven Gerrard, who uncharacteristically dragged his shot wide. It typified a low-key first-half from the England international, who found space elusive as Sunderland closed him down quickly in the midfield.
Robbie Keane's Premier League debut for Liverpool was equally quiet before the break, as he searched in vain for an understanding with the men around him. But Keane was at least responsible for Liverpool's best opportunity of the half, when his first-time shot went narrowly wide in the 43rd minute.
It was not enough to satisfy Benitez, though, who acted at half-time by sending on Alonso in place of Damien Plessis, who had been anonymous in midfield. There was an extra urgency in the Liverpool approach, and Gerrard adjusted his sight to go close with a 53rd-minute effort.
But Liverpool should have been behind just seconds later when Murphy's cross found Diouf, who miscued his shot from only 12 yards. It was to be Sunderland's last chance for some time as Liverpool began to peg them back in their own half, and the visitors almost went ahead in the 72nd minute.
Kuyt, another who made little impression on the game, unleashed a shot that deflected off a defender before Gordon made a fine reaction. From the rebound Torres should have scored, but Keane accidently blocked his team-mate's shot. The Irishman was taken off soon after but Liverpool kept pressing forward.
Alonso also went close with an ambitious attempt from ten yards inside his own half, before Torres earned Liverpool a victory they scarcely deserved, steering a superb low shot inside the post after receiving a pass from Gerrard.