Match Running Performance Fluctuations in Elite Soccer: Indicative of Fatigue, Pacing or Situational Influences?

Bradley P.S., Noakes T.D.

The aims of this study were to: (1) quantify match running performance in 5-minute periods to determine if players fatigue or modulate high-intensity running according to a pacing strategy, and (2) examine factors impacting high-intensity running such as scoreline, match importance, and the introduction of substitutes. All players were analyzed using a computerized tracking system. Maintaining ‘high’ levels of activity in the first half resulted in a 12% reduction (P < 0.01) in the second half for high-intensity running (effect size [ES]: 0.8), while no changes were observed in ‘moderate’ and ‘low’ groups (ES: 0.0–0.2). The ‘high’ group covered less (P < 0.01) high-intensity running in the initial 10 minutes of the second versus first half (ES: 0.6–0.7), but this was not observed in ‘moderate’ and ‘low’ groups (ES: 0.2–0.4). After the most intense periods, players demonstrated an 8% drop in high-intensity running (P < 0.05) compared to the match average (ES: 0.2) and this persisted for 5 minutes before recovering. Players covered similar high-intensity running distances in matches with differing scorelines but position-specific trends indicated central defenders covered 17% less (P < 0.01) and attackers 15% more high-intensity running during matches that were heavily won versus lost (ES: 0.9). High-intensity running distances were comparable in matches of differing importance, but between-half trends indicated that only declines (P < 0.01) occurred in the second half of critical matches (ES: 0.2). Substitutes covered 15% more (P < 0.01) high-intensity running versus the same time period when completing a full match (ES: 0.5). The data demonstrate that high-intensity running in the second half is impacted by the activity of the first half and is reduced for 5 minutes after intense periods. High-intensity running is also influenced by scoreline and substitutions but not match importance. More research is warranted to establish if fluctuations in match running performance are primarily a consequence of fatigue, pacing, or tactical and situational influences.

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