There comes a point when truth and reality win out over mind games or mild trolling of one's fellow title chasers, and after Monday's result against Crystal Palace, Brendan Rodgers seems to have reached that point.
"For me the title has gone, yes," said Rodgers after his side threw away a 3-0 lead. "We needed to win tonight to keep the pressure on. It was still in the hands of Manchester City, so us winning would have given them a bit of pressure in the Aston Villa game. Villa will make it difficult against them but everyone will look at City's squad and see them as a team who can win two games and win the title. I think they'll go and win their two games now and will be champions, but this game was hugely disappointing."
The title was already in Manchester City's hands even prior to Liverpool's visit to Selhurst Park given that the Reds needed six points plus superior goal difference in order to guarantee the title, but they've now significantly eased the pressure on Manuel Pellegrini's side to a point where Rodgers can honestly admit the title dream is officially dead.
"For 78 minutes we were outstanding," Rodgers explained. "We'd looked solid defensively and didn't have many scares, had control of the ball and had gone three goals up but we got carried away and lost our defensive structure. When we had the structure and discipline to our game, we scored goals and created chances. But we didn't manage the game.
"It would have been [crushing] anyway had we not won the game but to have been 3-0 up, it feels like a loss. It's very quiet in the dressing room. The players are devastated but, in the last 11 minutes, we didn't defend at all with any cohesion. Tonight was about dealing with the situation. We needed that calmness and control to see the game out but we didn't manage it. "
That this Liverpool side is devastated to finish second is indicative of just how swept up in the club's progress everyone — management, players, fans, even the press — became. Achieving well beyond the stated goals for the season, it's a result that Rodgers feels his club can look back on quite positively, even if it doesn't feel that way at the moment.
"We can be incredibly proud of this season," Rodgers insisted. "We're actually ahead of schedule. We've made great strides and, while I'm here, I'm fighting to win titles. I'll be relentless in my quest for that. That's why I came. I've seen a lot this season that has given us great hope going forward. We're building something sustainable. We haven't thrown a bucket-load of money at it. We're trying to build. We'll keep working and we'll try and make more strides forward next season."
It's been an incredible season and regardless of how this season turns out, Liverpool's future looks bright. The club are in good hands with Rodgers at the helm. There are still many things the team need to improve for next season, but Rodgers has shown a willingness to tinker and learn from previous errors that should help significantly in eradicating careless errors of judgment like the kinds that caused dropped points at Palace.