Liverpool's players still believe the top four is within reach and even if they're wrong, one can understand why they might want to. It's harder to forgive the club's insistence on getting them to talk about it.
If there's one thing you can count on when you wake up in the morning, sit down for lunch in the afternoon, and crawl into bed in the evening it's that the sky is blue—at least somewhere in behind those brooding storm clouds. If there's a second, it's that Liverpool are talking up their chances of a top four, Champions League finish even when their chances of a top four, Champions League finish stopped being a thing that actually exists quite some time ago.
A poor showing against West Bromwich Albion on the heels of two decent performances that both ended in draws against Manchester City and Arsenal sealed Liverpool's fate. And for a few days at least the players and manager appeared aware of the new reality—a reality where Liverpool were as many points out of fourth place as they had matches remaining and would have to count on sides ahead of them losing a quarter of their games even if Liverpool were to go on a perfect run.
"We can take a lot out of the last two games," said Jordan Henderson when the club's official site asked the midfielder to wax poetic on how a 5-0 thumping of Swansea and a commendable effort to overcome their deficit in Europe against Zenit meant a world filled with brooding storm clouds had been replaced by one of endlessly hopeful sunshine.
"They were good performances and good results," he added. "Unfortunately we didn't end up qualifying for the next round of the Europa League but we gave it our best shot. We've got 11 games left and want to succeed in those games. We've done well of late. I think we've been playing some good stuff—we're still improving."
And, to be fair, both were good results and good performances. Swansea may have been playing a reserve side and Zenit may have come into the match thinking they had the tie in hand and Liverpool this season has shown an uncanny ability to be unerringly consistent in their inconsistency, following up a poor result or three with a cracking display of effective yet flowing football and vice versa. But still, both were very clearly good performances and good results.
Then the club's official website came straight out and asked Henderson if he thought the top four was still something that was within reach: "We'll give it our best shot. We know it will be difficult but we still believe we can do it. The coming games will be a good chance for us to showcase what we want to achieve."
With eleven games remaining for all sides, Liverpool sit ten points back of Chelsea in fourth. Even if Liverpool were to win every game left to them it would mean Chelsea would have to drop ten points in their eleven games. And Liverpool would also need to leap past Arsenal, currently sat in fifth and with eight more points than Liverpool—meaning that for Liverpool to even get back into the Europa League, Arsenal must lose three more times or draw four more times than them over the remaining eleven games.
The players, to be fair, probably need to believe. They probably will even after fourth becomes a mathematical impossibility. It's hard to feel quite so sympathetic, though, for the people at the club who keep finding new and disappointing ways to get them to publicly share their belief.