Pep Guardiola admits he is bewildered by Manchester City's inconsistency this season, making it hard for him to lavish praise on the club's top performers.
Within minutes of the 4-0 win at Watford on Tuesday, a grim-faced Guardiola made it clear he was still irked by the FA Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal.
He accused City of playing at walking pace for the first half of the Arsenal game, and over the course of a number of interviews his consistent message was that the display at Watford met the "minimum" standard he expected in terms of effort.
The showing against Arsenal clearly did not, and Guardiola is flummoxed by why City have lost the dominant edge of their 2017-18 and 2018-19 championship-winning seasons.
Beating Watford gave City a fourth successive Premier League win, but that represents their best run in the competition this season, a far cry from the sequences they have been used to stringing together.
And although Raheem Sterling has scored 19 Premier League goals from the wing this term, Guardiola was cautious about lavishing the England star with great praise, given that collectively City have fallen so far short.
Pressed on Sterling's achievements, Guardiola told a news conference: "I don't have any complaints. I love when the players can achieve their desires and score goals and have this commitment to score goals.
"But Raheem has to know, like all of us have to know, that we are far away from Liverpool.
"I think it's the first time we've been able to win four games in a row in the Premier League.
"And we were able two seasons ago to make 18 [successive wins], last season make 14. This was the first time we were able to streak four games in a row winning.
"That means how poor was our consistency this season because we are the same people, we are the same guys.
"And it's happened because something was wrong and I have to discover what for next season."
Guardiola told BBC Sport that the player of the season awards should go to Liverpool players this term, rather than his own stars, such as Kevin De Bruyne.
Although the gap to Liverpool came down to 15 points after City's win, Guardiola's team were trounced in the title race and their Catalan manager knows it.
"It's the business of all of us, not just one player or 11 players. I never point at one player. I trust a lot with the courage, with the commitment for all the team," Guardiola said.
"It would be easy for the manager to say, 'Okay, we lost because of this player', I put it out, but this is not the situation, this is not the reality."