Kevin De Bruyne doesn't mind being honest about Manchester City's rivals Liverpool being worthy Premier League champions this season.
De Bruyne knows his side won't win the title for a third year running, but he believes basic errors have doomed City's challenge. It has the Belgium international reminiscing about the 2016/17 campaign, Pep Guardiola's first in charge in the sky blue half of Manchester, when City finished third and trophyless.
Speaking to Laura Woods of Sky Sports, De Bruyne denied there was any animosity toward Liverpool despite the Reds being 22 points clear at the top of the table and seemingly destined to win the top-flight crown for the first time since 1990:
"We're performing well but we've lost too many points. It feels a bit like the first season with Pep where we were playing good football but we were making too many errors.
"There are games where you think you are fully in control and then the last five or 10 minutes, we basically gave it away and in this period where Liverpool are not dropping any points, every point you drop is too much. Even if we did better, I think the way Liverpool are performing this year and winning basically everything, they deserve to win and be champions again.
"I don't think there is a level of frustration with Liverpool because you just have to applaud what they are doing. It's also the same as what we had for the last two years—if you have that many points and win that many games, there's not a lot the opposition can do and I know they're just going to control what they do themselves."
Matching Liverpool's consistency has proved beyond City, despite the obvious talent around De Bruyne. This is still a group that's scored the most goals in the division, 68, four more than the leaders and champions-elect.
De Bruyne has been a key factor behind the Citizens' awesome output in the final third. The 28-year-old has helped himself to eight goals and 16 assists in the division this season.
Those numbers have naturally been earning De Bruyne some lofty plaudits:
While there may still be some debate about De Bruyne being the best in his trade on the planet, the player himself believes a Ballon d'Or is "probably not too far" off. Making good on this confidence will prove difficult if a UEFA ban from the Champions League is upheld.
European football's governing body has hit City with a two-year ban from the tournament for financial fair play irregularities. City have appealed the punishment with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, per the Guardian's David Conn, but as things stand, this season has become make or break for the club on the continent.
Fortunately for the Citizens, a De Bruyne masterclass helped earn a 2-1 win over Real Madrid in the first leg of the last 16 at the Santiago Bernabeu. He put a cross on to the head of Gabriel Jesus for City's first before taking the responsibility himself to score from the penalty spot late on.
It was the kind of performance Ballon d'Or victories are built upon. De Bruyne needs the broader exposure afforded by the Champions League to put him above the familiar names come awards time.
He should at least be able to count on City maintaining domestic dominance. The Citizens face Aston Villa in the 2020 Carabao Cup final at Wembley on Sunday, providing De Bruyne the chance to lift the trophy for the third year running and fourth time overall since joining the club in 2015. City are also still in the FA Cup and equipped to defend the trophy won last season.
A dynamic midfield where De Bruyne is supported by David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gunodgan is the envy of most top clubs. Meanwhile, De Bruyne has an ample array of goalscorers to aim for in the form of Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.
Creativity is the one area where City exceed Liverpool, but De Bruyne and Co. can't match the solidity of the Reds. While Liverpool's success is underpinned by a formidable defence led by centre-back Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker, City have been vulnerable at the back amid Aymeric Laporte's run of injuries.
Fixing the back line has to be Guardiola's priority if he's going to put a balanced supporting cast around De Bruyne and ensure Liverpool's one-sided march to the title is just a one-season blip.