After a day in which Everton could not sign new striker Cenk Tosun in time to feature in this FA Cup tie, it felt inevitable that new Liverpool signing Virgil van Dijk would take centre stage and the £75 million centre-back did just that, rising highest at a corner to inflict a 2-1 defeat on the visitors.
Manager Sam Allardyce promised a more adventurous Everton in this match and his team began in positive fashion before an absurd penalty award gifted Liverpool the lead at half-time. Everton restored parity with a superb counterattacking goal, headlined by the unlikely presence of 35-year-old centre-back Phil Jagielka as the creator.
Alas it was not to be as the away side fell agonisingly short, paying for two costly defensive lapses and the continued lack of an established striker as new signing Tosun watched on in the stands. Everton exits the FA Cup at the third-round stage for the third time in four seasons.
Mining for positives after exiting the FA Cup against your local rivals may seem redundant, but after a bleak festive period, there were some encouraging signs despite the result.
The introduction of Ademola Lookman galvanised those in blue and pointed the way forward. Along with Yannick Bolasie on the other flank and the use of Gylfi Sigurdsson through the middle, Everton looked like a team capable of causing the opposition problems. That is more than can be said of the previous four matches.
Given the importance Allardyce places on solid defence, the soft nature of both Liverpool goals and the standard of set-piece defending throughout the match are sure to be bitterly disappointing.
Everton did not heed earlier warnings as Van Dijk rose to claim victory and leave the visitors beaten with only a gallant performance to reflect on. Van Dijk and fellow Liverpool defender Joe Gomez both had free headers from corners earlier in the second half.
Manager rating out of 10
7 — A positive approach from Allardyce showed his team can compete in these games. Rightly subbed an ill-disciplined Wayne Rooney and the change lifted the Everton performance.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jordan Pickford, 5 — Rash decision for the second goal cost his team as Pickford charged aimlessly from his goal. A horrible time for an error from a goalkeeper who has carried Everton for much of this season.
DF Jonjoe Kenny, 7 — Caught out of position once early on but recovered to perform with his usual consistency at right-back. One fine interception prevented a clear-cut chance for the home side.
DF Mason Holgate, 7 — After his travails at right-back against Manchester United, this reaffirmed why centre-back is the best place for the young defender to continue his development. On the wrong end of a ludicrous penalty decision.
DF Phil Jagielka, 7 — Superb until Van Dijk rose above him for the winning goal, the Everton captain also showed remarkable composure and daring to set up Sigurdsson for the equaliser.
DF Cuco Martina, 6 — Out of position, but surprisingly untested by the home attack. Refusal to trust his left foot continues to frustrate, but the stand-in left-back coped well enough on the night.
MF James McCarthy, 7 — Finesse on the ball is not his forte but the midfielder excels at his own brand of combative midfield play. Offered aggression and set the tone for a much-improved team performance before tiring late on.
MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 7 — Frustration visible as the midfielder repeatedly beat the turf in the aftermath of the Van Dijk winner. Forceful presence in midfield and kept possession better than most.
MF Yannick Bolasie, 8 — Shattered after his first 90 minutes since his comeback, Bolasie seemed to get a second wind after starting the move for Sigurdsson’s goal. Aside from occasional poor decision-making, he was a constant threat with his pace and trickery.
MF Wayne Rooney, 5 — In a match defined by its fiery nature, an idiotic early booking made Rooney a passenger for the rest of his time on the pitch. Subbed early in the second half to prevent an inevitable red card.
MF Gylfi Sigurdsson, 7 — Moved back to the No. 10 role after Rooney exited and his classy finish for the goal showed why his continued use of the left side of midfield is a gross waste of his ability.
FW Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 5 — Good movement unrewarded as a handful of crosses narrowly evaded him, but the young striker struggled to make an impact otherwise as hold-up play fell short.
MF Ademola Lookman, 8 — Transformed the Everton performance, injecting pace and attacking threat on the left side and completing a game-high five dribbles in his time on the pitch.
FW Oumar Niasse, NR — Another of those at fault for the decisive Liverpool goal.
MF Tom Davies, NR — Replaced an exhausted McCarthy in the closing stages.
Luke is ESPN FC’s Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.