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

Bradley, P.S., Noakes, T.D.

This study aimed to achieve two main objectives: (1) quantify match running performance in 5-minute periods to assess whether players fatigue or modulate high-intensity running according to a pacing strategy, and (2) examine factors influencing high-intensity running such as score line, match importance, and the introduction of substitutes.

Using a computerized tracking system, all players were analyzed. The findings revealed that maintaining high levels of activity in the first half resulted in a 12% reduction (P < 0.01) in high-intensity running in the second half, while no changes were observed in moderate and low activity groups. The high activity group also covered less high-intensity running in the initial 10 minutes of the second half compared to the first half. After the most intense periods, players demonstrated an 8% drop in high-intensity running compared to the match average, persisting for 5 minutes before recovering. Interestingly, high-intensity running distances were comparable in matches with differing score lines, but position-specific trends indicated that central defenders covered less and attackers covered more high-intensity running during heavily won matches versus lost matches. Regarding match importance, comparable high-intensity running distances were observed, but declines were noted in the second half of critical matches. Substitutes covered more high-intensity running compared to completing a full match. These findings suggest that high-intensity running in the second half is influenced by first-half activity levels and is reduced after intense periods. Score line and substitutions also impact high-intensity running, while match importance does not seem to have a significant effect. Further research is needed to determine if fluctuations in match running performance are primarily due to fatigue, pacing, or tactical and situational influences.

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