Let’s Get Physical: Comparing the Big 5 European Football Leagues
A long-standing debate in Football amongst players, coaches and analysts is how do leagues compare physically and what is the most ‘intense’ league.
West Ham United’s Brazilian winger Felipe Anderson commented on the change from the Italian league to the English Premier League: “The difference is incredible. It’s a big difference. I felt, in my first 10 games, I couldn’t play more than 70 minutes because of the intensity”.
From a coaches perspective, current Juventus and former Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri appears to agree: “In Italy, we run more in terms of quantity but the difference (with the Premier League) is the quality”. However, Pep Guardiola is less convinced: “I hear a lot of times about the intensity in the Premier League when none of you have been in La Liga or the Bundesliga to know how intense it is”.
In truth, it has always been difficult to answer these questions objectively. As explained in our previous blog post, detailed physical data from official tracking providers is generally not available outside of the league in question, plus the data is not standardised across leagues. However new broadcast player tracking technology applied systematically across the ‘Big 5’ European football leagues has, for the first time, allowed the physical demands to be compared objectively in a standardised way.
Which is the most physically demanding league?
While we have been providing leading football clubs with physical data to enhance player recruitment, we wanted to finally answer the question of which league is the most physically demanding by analysing physical performance according to 3 categories commonly used in sports science:
For intensity, we have compared the average number of high intensity activities with average peak sprint velocity (99th percentile). The peak sprint velocity metric is a relative measure based on the capability to achieve and sustain higher speeds and Figure 1 is showing the highest demand in the English Premier League.
For Sprinting performance, Figure 2 compares the average sprint distance (m) with average number of sprint activities. Similar to the intensity visualisation, we can see the English Premier League generating higher sprinting outputs relative to the other leagues, although the Spanish league provides a similar output in terms of number of sprint activities.
For overall volume, Figure 3 compares average high intensity distance (m) plotted against average total distance (m). Here we can see that Spain La Liga and Italy Serie A actually records the highest total distance data, which is consistent with Maurizio Sarri’s observations when comparing his experiences. Albeit, we can also see that the English Premier League records the highest HI distance outputs with France Ligue 1 and Germany Bundesliga noticeably different.
Finally, we have visualised running loads for each league in Figure 4 which shows average player distance in speed zones above 4.0 m/s, overlaid with the average number of HI activities.
Overall, our analysis has shown that English Premier League is indeed the most demanding physically with France Ligue 1 generally providing the lowest numbers of high intensity running and sprints relative to the other leagues.
Coming soon: In our next article we will compare the physical demands of the UEFA Champions league in relation to the ‘Big 5’ leagues.
Data Sample & Glossary
For this analysis, we utilised SkillCorner’s broadcast tracking data on all outfield player performances (over 75 mins in duration) in the ‘Big 5’ European leagues, throughout the 2019/20 season up to the COVID-19 shutdown in early March 2020.
The exact number of games played in each league varied from 288 (England), 279 (France), 270 (Spain), 256 (Italy), with Germany playing the fewest games (233) due to the league comprising only 18 teams.
Below is a glossary of variables used within this study.
Total Distance: Total distance covered
Running Distance: Distance covered from 4.0–5.5 m/s
High Speed Running (HSR) distance: Distance covered between 5.5 m/s and 7.0 m/s (19.8 and 25.2 km/h)
Sprint Distance: Distance covered above 7.0 m/s (25.2 km/h)
High Intensity (HI) Distance: Distance covered above 5.5 m/s (19.8 km/h)
HI Activity: Discrete activity exceeding 5.5m/s for a specific duration
Sprint Activity: Discrete activity exceeding 7.0 m/s for a specific duration
PSV-99: Peak sprint velocity 99th percentile
To discover more about our data and how it has been validated against official tracking data, both by our research team and leading football clubs, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.