Kuyt issues warning to United

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The Independent Football

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt has warned Manchester United they cannot afford to slip up if they are to retain their Barclays Premier League title.

The gap between United in top spot and second-placed Liverpool could be eight points by the time the Reds face Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday - United host Blackburn 24 hours earlier.

But Kuyt has warned United Liverpool will pounce on any slip-up they make, and that they pose a long-term threat to United's hopes of dominating English football for years to come.

The Dutchman said: "We have players who are just reaching their peak, Steven Gerrard just seems to get better every season and maybe he hasn't even reached his peak yet.

"He scores loads of goals and everyone can see how important he is. It's the same with Fernando Torres and a few others.

"We have a lot of young, talented players who have now been at the club a long time. I think this is the best team I have played with at Liverpool."

But Liverpool expect the pressure to really be on by the time Mark Hughes' side arrive at Anfield on Sunday, when anything but a victory could leave Liverpool trailing in Manchester United's wake.

And Kuyt recalls the dramatic meeting with City at Eastlands earlier in the season when he scored a last-minute winner, one of a host of late comebacks which ensured Liverpool are now the only serious challengers to United for the title.

Liverpool also won in the last seconds at Portsmouth last time out, and Kuyt puts this new-found ability to turn games around in the final minutes down to a familiarity and spirit in the dressing room.

He explained: "It was a crazy game at City and a really important one. We were 2-0 down at half-time but saw a completely different Liverpool side in the second half.

"The comebacks have been possible because the team has been together for longer. All the players know each other better, and I also think there are a lot of players here who are getting better each year."

Liverpool go into this weekend's game on the back of a two-week break from competitive action. Boss Rafael Benitez allowed his players a few days off following last week's internationals - something Kuyt believes will be of benefit as the season progresses.

He said: "The manager gave us a few days off so I went back to Holland to see family and friends. The whole family went and enjoyed it.

"Hopefully it will be my last opportunity to go back this season, because that would mean we are doing really well. We're all ready for the rest of the season now."

With Gerrard still a doubt for the City clash, and Robbie Keane gone, Ryan Babel is likely to find himself involved on Sunday despite a season of erratic form.

But Liverpool's other Dutchman reckons he is learning fast, and says: "With Robbie having left that has increased my chances a little more.

"I feel that I am ready for more playing time so hopefully that will come.

"I have spoken with the manager and he has told me what my role can be in the future. If necessary, I will play as a winger, but I have made no secret of my desire to play as a striker at Liverpool."

And he is looking to learn from Torres as he endeavours to improve.

He added: "I have to be realistic. I know Fernando is the number one striker, there is no doubt about that.

"But there are a lot of games and I want to prove that I can be a striker, too.

"Fernando has wonderful movement and that is what makes him the player he is. It is definitely an area where I can get better, so I look at him in training.

"My shooting with my left foot could be better, too, and Fernando is good with both feet so I have been watching how he positions his body to strike the ball.

"I have to keep telling myself that I am only 22. it is easy to forget that.

"It is good for me that I have been playing more as a striker because that is where I feel most comfortable."