If Marco Silva learned anything from Everton’s 2-1 defeat at Manchester United, it is that the disparity between the Blues and the top six remains sizeable.
On the back of three consecutive league wins, the Blues should have relished the opportunity to arrest a lamentable run of form away to the most fragile of the Premier League’s elite.
But for the most part, they simply froze, and nobody in royal blue embodied their impotence more than Seamus Coleman.
For most supporters, there is a fine line between fair and undue criticism of the players of your own club; nobody could legislate for the cruel vilification of Tom Davies in recent weeks, for instance.
But it would not border into invective to argue that so far this season, Coleman has underperformed.
Away at Crystal Palace nearly two years ago, the right-back showed terrific composure to fire a late winner past goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey from inside the penalty box, securing three priceless points for the Blues.
Fast-forward to Sunday afternoon and the Irishman was presented with an almost exact replica of an opportunity, if not an easier one. This time, though, he spurned it, clearing David de Gea’s crossbar by some distance.
In a sense, this is a microcosm of the downward trajectory Coleman’s career has taken of late.
Whereas he used to bomb forward relentlessly, unafraid of those in his path, a proclivity to retreat has suddenly grown into his game, and the way in which United’s admittedly excellent Anthony Martial toyed with him at times on Sunday was further cause for concern.
The double-leg break he suffered in March 2017 while with Ireland explains part of his woes but even still, his level of performance has undeniably begun to deteriorate.
Patently, Everton’s current weakest link is their right flank, in which Coleman has now been a mainstay for more than five years. Ahead of him, Theo Walcott is beginning to tail off after a bright start following his arrival in January.
But the pair have failed to form the sort of partnership which Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar, for instance, enjoyed to such great effect for years, and like Coleman, Walcott’s place in the team should also now be under scrutiny.
One of Coleman’s most obvious problems, through no fault of his own, is that he has never had adequate back-up pushing for his place.
Jonjoe Kenny is the only realistic threat to Coleman’s place in the side, but it would be naive to expect a 21-year-old, only in his second full season with the senior squad, to replace Coleman, particularly when Kenny’s own performances have ranged from excellent to exasperating.
This is by no means a new issue with Coleman; he was superb in David Moyes’ final campaign at Goodison Park but even then only had to oust a retiring Phil Neville and an ageing Tony Hibbert.
Roberto Martinez tried countless deputies in Coleman’s absence, including Tyias Browning, Bryan Oviedo, John Stones, and even, on occasion, midfielders James McCarthy and Muhamed Besic.
Ronald Koeman experienced mixed results playing Mason Holgate at right-back, before the infamous acquisition of Cuco Martina, a player so out of his depth in the Premier League it made fans yearn even more for Coleman’s protracted return from the sidelines.
Competition breeds a better player, but only when it is strong competition, and on the basis of their business so far, Silva and director of football Marcel Brands are all too aware of this.
With the pressure placed on him by new signings Yerry Mina and Kurt Zouma, Michael Keane has improved immeasurably at centre-half this term, to such an extent that Mina, a £27 million signing from Barcelona, has yet to make his Blues debut.
Striker Cenk Tosun, for all of his industry and hard work, was deservedly dropped when his goal drought looked ceaseless. Since then, he has scored twice from the bench, and has had far more of an impact than he did in the early months of Silva’s reign.
Above all else, Coleman is now 30, and while the overused labelling of thirtysomething footballers being over the hill is generally a fallacy, the time will soon come for his successor at right-back to become an immediate necessity.
Ushering out the old guard is something Everton have been notoriously poor at – the club depended far too heavily, far too long, on players like Tim Howard, Baines and Phil Jagielka.
At times, Evertonians could be guilty of judging Coleman through rose-tinted glasses; his unwavering dedication to give his all for the side is unmatched by the majority of most other modern-day footballers has endeared him to much of the Goodison faithful, but there is an argument to be made as to whether he has become something of a sacred cow.
Away from football, his attitude has always been impeccable, through both his disdain for the ‘washbag culture’ now synonymous with the Premier League, and his repeated donations to charity epitomise the qualities of a man who knows there is far more to life than just kicking a ball.
But when he, and indeed every Everton player, step onto the Goodison turf, all else should become immaterial, and no amount of ghastly injuries or good will from supporters can justify sub-par performances.
Silva and Brands have shown they are no fools – the pair had been in their respective jobs for a matter of weeks before Lucas Digne was recruited as an long-overdue replacement for Baines.
They will both know this is an area where Everton desperately need surgery, be it in the January transfer window or next summer, either to replace Coleman immediately or to push him harder than any of his deputies have ever done.
Whatever the circumstance, there will be no room for sentiment in this new era at Goodison, and unless Coleman can rediscover his old self on the pitch, he may soon find himself spending more time off it.