The Premier League shouldn't be judged by European success

Narratives can change quickly in football.

It's a bit simplistic to think every occurrence in the sport fits into a tidy box or that comprehensive generalizations should be gleaned from a competition where chance often trumps other influential variables.

Three years ago, the Premier League was mired in a supposed crisis stemming from a string of poor continental showings. It was a popular storyline. Leicester City was the only English side to make the quarter-final stage of the 2016-17 Champions League, and with some of the division's titans limping out of Europe's marquee competition, the world's footballing cash cow was apparently in decline.

Even before then, talk of the decline of Premier League quality was tethered to performances on the continent. Manchester City was the sole English club to progress beyond the last-16 during the 2015-16 campaign, a standard slightly better than the previous season when no teams made the quarter-finals.

"To those who say our league is shit, it proves there's perhaps shit elsewhere as well," then-Lille boss Rene Girard said after Monaco stunned Arsenal at home in 2014.

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And that was before Manchester City and Chelsea both bowed out of the Champions League at the same stage. The mighty Premier League appeared an afterthought in Europe. Congested holiday schedules, the absence of a holiday break, intense league competition, and forays in two domestic cups have all been attributed to England's football regression.

But the naysayers were noticeably reticent on Tuesday after Liverpool and Tottenham emerged from the brink of elimination to book knockout stage berths. Manchester City and Manchester United had already secured their spots. Suddenly - after years of limp European exhibits - all nine of the Premier League outfits to compete in the Champions League over the last two seasons have advanced beyond group play.

It could have easily gone the other way. A late Lucas Moura goal in a strong Spurs showing against Barcelona combined with Napoli's appalling effort at Liverpool propelled the two Premier League sides into the knockout stage. Just as easily, Napoli and Inter could have qualified for the last-16, and discussions of an English slump would have been paired with Italy's reemergence on the continental stage.

What if gifted full-back Faouzi Ghoulam started for Carlo Ancelotti's side instead of error-prone Mario Rui? What if Arkadiusz Milik had slotted home a late close-range effort fired directly at Liverpool 'keeper Alisson? What if Inter hadn't collapsed over the last two matches after staring down almost certain qualification? All on the edge of a coin that could have fallen either way.

Even Manchester United have progressed beyond the groups despite an at-times comical domestic display; it hasn't been pretty. A smash-and-grab victory at Juventus helped, but so too did being drawn into a group with Swiss side Young Boys and a Valencia side flirting with La Liga relegation.

It wasn't that long ago English clubs thrived on the continent. Between 2004 and 2009 a Premier League side made all five Champions League finals. They comprised six of the eight teams to make the semi-finals in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Martin Rickett - PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Again, chance and coincidence have an assertive influence in European competition that fuels presumptive and often ill-informed narrative.

Manchester City have the tools and manager for a deep run in the competition. Tottenham have enjoyed two seasons of historic Champions League showings against the likes of Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter, and Barca. Liverpool are defending finalists. One tier below, Chelsea and Arsenal are the bookmakers' picks to win the Europa League. UEFA's league coefficient is no longer a worry and, rather swiftly, Premier League sides are poised to once again thrive in continental competition.

Does this mean the Premier League is good again? No. It's not that simple, nor does it need to be.

The Premier League shouldn't be judged by European success
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