Carlo Ancelotti had already got Everton dreaming about a future in which they could fight to qualify for the Champions League, but his current team were handed the harshest of wake-up calls by former club Chelsea.
Despite being without seven first-team players, Chelsea condemned Ancelotti to his joint-heaviest league defeat as a manager, equalling the 4-0 loss his Real Madrid team suffered against local rivals Atletico five years ago.
That scoreline would have been bettered by Frank Lampard's injury-hit Chelsea side had it not been for goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who made three good saves.
This was Ancelotti's first return to Stamford Bridge as a manager and it will have acted as a reminder of how far Everton have to go to achieve their long-term aim of challenging for a top-four place.
The fact Chelsea were missing N'Golo Kante, Tammy Abraham, Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek highlighted the gulf in class between the two squads.
Asked about the prospect of trying to bridge the gap between Everton and the top-four challengers, Ancelotti said: "For the future, that's the target of the club. We have to improve, of course. Today we were not at the same level as Chelsea.
"A week ago, though, we were at the same level as Manchester United. You cannot judge a team on one week. At the end of the season, we will see where we are. But the future is set, this club wants to be competitive in the Premier League and Europe."
For the time being, Ancelotti has not given up on snatching a Europa League place, which would be viewed as a short-term triumph, adding: "This team was close to relegation. We are still there, six points from the Europa League. We have to fight for this."
There was a real mix of young and old in Lampard's team, with 18-year-old Billy Gilmour impressing on his first Premier League start and 21-year-old Mason Mount scoring.
Chelsea's other goals came from their over-30s front three of Pedro Rodriguez, Willian and Olivier Giroud, while 26-year-old Ross Barkley provided two assists against his former club.
Barkley had been booed by the Everton supporters early in the game, but the same fans were heading for the exits in the second half after Giroud had netted Chelsea's fourth goal.
"At home, this was our best performance because of the goals and the clean sheet," Lampard said. "In terms of performance, we've been close to that level a lot here and then, in the end, I've been left mulling over a 1-0 defeat. Today it all came together, the energy, speed of pass, tempo. We need to keep our feet on the ground, but we saw some really good stuff today."
Lampard had described Chelsea as "underdogs" in the top-four race at the end of January, when they had failed to sign a player in the transfer window.
"It's in our hands," he said, when asked to reassess the position. "When I said underdogs, I was looking at the big scene. I'm not going to say we're favourites now. There's a lot of work to be done.
"We have to fight the inconsistencies, get the points. It doesn't feel to me like we're favourites."
Pickford had already made a brilliant save to deny Mount before the midfielder fired Chelsea into a 14th-minute lead.
Gilmour, meanwhile, completed 74 passes in the game, more than any other player. One of those was to find Giroud, who fed Barkley, and he sent Pedro through on goal to beat the helpless Pickford and double Chelsea's lead.
"He's [Gilmore] receiving the ball in difficult areas on the pitch. You need confidence to take the ball and play as he does. Billy showed b***s in the first half, then played higher up the pitch second half. That's a great thing for me when I'm thinking about the midfield."
Everton's only real sight of goal came in the 26th minute, when Dominic Calvert-Lewin should have pulled the visitors back into the game.
That was as good as it got for Ancelotti's team, with Willian scoring a third before turning provider in the 54th minute, as his cross was stabbed in by Giroud.
That was enough for a number of Everton fans, who decided to get on the motorway early. Ancelotti must have wished he could have joined them even though the Italian, who won a league and FA Cup double while in charge of Chelsea, insisted he enjoyed one aspect of his return.
"I'm disappointed with the result, but joy for the reception." (© Daily Telegraph, London)