Everton playmaker James Rodriguez. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
A first loss for Rafa Benitez as Everton manager. It was going to come eventually.
The Spaniard has made an outstanding start to his Goodison Park tenure. Already, he's won over many of his detractors sceptical about his links across Stanley Park and brought an identity back to the playing style.
Yet the Toffees suffered a comprehensive 3-0 loss at Aston Villa which marks the end of the honeymoon period for Benitez.
Let's be frank, the opening to the season is more than what Evertonians could have wished for. This term's been described as a transitional one given the financial fair play restrictions and players on high wages who need to be moved on.
To collect 10 points in five games is a more-than-respectable total. Keep that up and the Toffees will be in the Champions League.
There were also were mitigating circumstances to the loss.
Everton were without their two main strikers in Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, captain Seamus Coleman and England's No.1 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Any side without such a crucial quartet would be encumbered - never mind one that doesn't boast an array of depth.
Financial fair play woes restricted Benitez's summer shopping and he struggled to raise funds to recruit the targets he coveted by clearing out certain players.
The James saga
In particular, the Everton boss wanted to offload James Rodriguez.
Despite all the marvelling qualities the Colombian has, Benitez deemed the two-time Champions League winner surplus to requirements for various reasons.
Yet Rodriguez remained at Goodison, rejecting switches to Porto and Istanbul Basaksehir late in the window.
After failing to leave, the pertinent question has raged since: how will he now feature in Benitez's plans?
If someone's earning a supposed £200,000 a week, he simply can't be left on the periphery. That would be preposterous.
Most fans have agreed that to have Rodriguez as an option off the bench would be a potent weapon. He is a bona fide game-changer who can provide the ingenious when games are goalless.
Instead, it was Villa who introduced someone of that ilk to settle matters.
For 60 minutes, Everton competed and the encounter was finely poised. That was until Leon Bailey came on in the 61st minute.
Fifteen minutes later, the home side were three goals to the good, with the £30 million summer signing scoring one and creating one.
Rodriguez, in contrast, was yet again omitted from the match-day squad. He's still to be involved in a match this season.
In the build-up, Benitez had warned the former Real Madrid playmaker is still short of fitness.
Surely, though, Rodriguez isn't deprived of the stamina and robustness to feature for 30 minutes. He's been training for the past week-and-a-half after all.
According to Benitez, it was the ex-Bayern Munich midfielder’s choice to miss the game.
“For this game, he was a little bit concerned about his muscle,’ the Everton boss said after the final whistle.
“He was having a little problem and we decided we have to wait, so he was not available. That's it. We will see if he's fit for the next game and then we will decide."
If ths is the case, Benitez can’t take too much, if any, of the blame. But there are rightful queries about when Rodriguez will be back in the fray.
After three wins and a draw, the Toffees hadn't missed the 30-year-old.
Coruscating performances from summer signings Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend have rightly been lauded.
On his day, Rodriguez is an undisputed top-class talent. Even when performing below his zenith, he's capable of a flash of brilliance.
Dearth of options
Off the bench in the midlands, Benitez was afforded just two out-and-out forwards.
Twenty-year-old Anthony Gordon, who was on loan at Championship Preston last term, came on for the last 10 minutes when defeat had already been accepted.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Ellis Simms - who spent time at Blackpool in League One in the 2020-21 campaign and only recently recovered from injury - was left unused.
With Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin sidelined for a couple of weeks, Benitez has a dearth of front men at his disposal.
Even Solomon Rondon, who was handed his full debut, looked like he was short of fitness after arriving on deadline day.
What happens with Rodriguez's situation has now become even more intriguing.