LONDON • Another year, another early departure from the FA Cup for Liverpool. In four seasons under manager Jurgen Klopp, they have not got beyond the fourth round and, this time, they did not even reach that far.
The bigger picture this season, of course, is that they have bigger prizes to aim for.
It probably says much about the FA Cup's place in Klopp's list of priorities that he looked more perturbed by a hamstring injury to Dejan Lovren in the opening minutes against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday than by the 2-1 third-round defeat that followed.
The German believes the injury, in the midst of a hectic schedule, highlighted precisely why he chose to name a second-string side to face the Wolves.
"Hamstring, is what I heard - without any signs before," the Reds manager told reporters. "I asked everybody, no signs, nothing, just out of the blue, so that's the decision you have to make.
"I am not sure what you all would have said if immediately from the beginning, our centre-half situation was Fabinho and Ki-Jana (Hoever); then probably a few very smart people would tell me that I don't respect the competition or whatever."
Klopp made nine changes to the side that lost for the first time in the Premier League this season to Manchester City last Thursday, with Lovren one of only two players to retain their place.
Liverpool have been knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round for the first time since 2011, when they lost 1-0 to Manchester United.
The Reds have been eliminated from five of their last seven FA Cup ties against fellow Premier League sides.
He gave rare starts to Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno, Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge as well as senior debuts for Curtis Jones, a 17-year-old local lad, and Rafa Camacho, an 18-year-old Portuguese midfielder who found himself filling a hole at right-back.
Lovren's injury meant that they were soon joined by the Dutch defender Hoever who, at 16 years and 354 days, became the third-youngest player in Liverpool's history and the youngest in the FA Cup.
Goals from Raul Jimenez and Ruben Neves either side of half-time sent Wolves into the fourth round, despite Origi's fine strike after the break briefly bringing Liverpool level.
Without forwards Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, the Reds struggled to get any momentum going forward.
FA CUP 4TH ROUND DRAW
Roman numerals denote division of non-Premier League teams
Swansea (II) v Gillingham (III)
AFC Wimbledon (III) v West Ham
Shrewsbury (III) or Stoke (II) v Wolves
Millwall (II) v Everton
Brighton v West Brom (II)
Bristol City (II) v Bolton (II)
Accrington (III) v Derby (II) or Southampton
Doncaster (III) v Oldham (IV)
Chelsea v Sheffield Wednesday (II) or Luton (III)
Newcastle or Blackburn (II) v Watford
Middlesbrough (II) v Newport (IV)
Manchester City v Burnley
Barnet (V) v Brentford (II)
Portsmouth (III) v QPR (II)
Arsenal v Manchester United
Crystal Palace v Tottenham
Ties to be played Jan 25-28
Wolves, though, have made a habit of upsetting the Premier League's established top six in their first season back in the top flight.
After beating Chelsea and Tottenham and holding City, Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League, Liverpool can now be added to the list of scalps for Nuno Espirito Santo's side.
Klopp had a final roll of the dice by throwing on Salah and Firmino for the final 20 minutes, but even their firepower failed to spark a fightback and his selection will now be questioned as he is still to deliver a trophy in his four seasons in charge.
However, with Liverpool still in pole position to deliver a first league title in 29 years, the German remained defiant over his changes.
"We played a similar line-up and had three tough games in the last couple of weeks, so it was clear we had to change," Klopp added after a run of four Premier League games in 13 days over the festive period.
"The intensity of the last few games gave me the information it was not possible to start with these three (Salah, Firmino and Mane) up front."
Wolves will now face the winners of the replay between Shrewsbury Town and Stoke City in the fourth round, the highlight of which is a mouth-watering clash between Arsenal and Manchester United.
The Gunners, with 13 FA Cup wins, and United with 12, are the most successful clubs in the world's oldest knockout competition.
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE