The Evolutionary Game: The English Premier League becomes a different ball game

The Evolutionary Game: The English Premier League becomes a different ball game

Released: Monday 11th August 2014 at 09:33

Premier League players may be worth millions of pounds to their clubs but new research has revealed that players performance levels have increased substantially in recent years and the game could now be described as a completely different ball game.

The study by the University of Sunderland and Chris Barnes, the Head of Sports Science at West Bromwich Albion FC has just been published in ‘The International Journal of Sports Medicine’ and is the largest of its kind to detail the physical and technical performance levels of more than 1,000 individual Premier League players across 23,000 match observations covering a seven season period, between 2006/07 and 2012/13.

The findings demonstrate how the intensity of Premier League football has increased, with players passing and receiving the ball more frequently, and covering greater distance at high-intensity and through sprinting. The competition is now watched by millions on a weekly basis, with clubs earning vast sums of money, and includes players idolised across the globe such as Wayne Rooney, Eden Hazard and Yaya Toure.

The Sunderland academics and Chris Barnes found that players in the 2012/13 season performed 40 per cent more passes with a greater percentage of successful passes than in 2006/07. The percentage of players with a passing success rate of less than 70 per cent also decreased from 26 per cent in 2006/07 to nine per cent in 2012/13, thus indicating that the bar has been raised technically in the league.

Highlighting the increasing physical demands of Premier League football, the amount of distance covered at high-intensity increased by around 30 per cent across the same time period.

The research was led by Dr Paul Bradley, a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Sunderland and Chris Barnes, Head of Sports Science at West Bromwich Albion FC. Dr Bradley said: “We can clearly see the evolution within the game between 2006/07 and 2012/13. It is likely that this is a consequence of players developing physically, technically and tactically in their preparation.

“This now gives professional clubs new benchmarks to be set in terms of typical physical, technical and tactical levels. It will also help with the recruitment of players because clubs can look at their capabilities and whether they will fit into the hustle and bustle of the English game and the various tactical systems used. That will also lead onto clubs.”

Chris Barnes added: “There is a commonly held belief that the Premier League has become faster and more physically demanding over recent years. This research provides the first objective evidence to back up those beliefs. It identifies the specific areas where the game has developed both physically and technically, and thus the findings are of tremendous value to coaches and conditioning staff.”

Players are also producing more explosive sprints and producing higher top speeds during sprints, which could mean that more emphasis needs to be placed on pre-conditioning exercises to avoid injuries, particularly as players decelerate from sprints.

The data also suggests there has been an increase in the passing tempo, resulting in higher numbers of player involvements with the ball. The increase in the pass success rate could also be down to an increase in the proportion of short to medium passes, typified in the tiki-taka style of play perfected by Spain, that some English clubs have tried to replicate and the improvement of players technically.

The research shows that footballers in the 2013/13 season completed 84 per cent of their passes compared to 76 per cent in the 2006/07 season; this is despite the 40 per cent increase in the number of passes.

It is now hoped the research can be used to aid training for professionals and be used as a benchmark for clubs. The study entitled, The Evolution of Physical and Technical Performance Parameters in the English Premier League, was produced by the University of Sunderland and Chris Barnes alongside other sport scientists working within the English Premier League. The data was kindly provided by the leading match analysis company Prozone Sports.