As the demand for televised games grows within the game, driving the ever-growing financial demands, European giants Real Madrid came through and endured a ruthless fixture schedule coupled with excessive travel to consolidate their dominance at the top of Spain’s La Liga with victory over Elche in January 2022.
Having returned from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with another trophy in the bank, beating Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup Final, they then reached the Copa del Rey quarter-finals after fighting back in extra-time to progress.
As Real Madrid moved into their 4th game in 11 days, they look to continue their extended unbeaten run as they remain at top of the table.
However, even legendary manager Carlo Ancelotti, a Head Coach well versed in dealing with fixture congestion through his decades in the game as player and head coach asked the direct question:
As fixture congestion has recently become a hot discussion and debated topic, research in this area by Ross et al., (2021) had proposed how physical output is not really a problem as total distance covered was not impacted by fixture congested periods.
The investigation performed determined congested fixture periods as 6-consecutive matches separated by 3 days, whereas congested fixture periods were defined as periods through which the team analysed played 2-games in a week.
Consequently, non-congested fixture periods were described within the study as a period with 1-match played within a weekly schedule.
Results from studies involving fixture congestive periods observed negative effects of fixture congestion on variables such as low- and moderate-intensity distance covered, which maybe indicates how professional football players employ pacing strategies as a way of maintaining high-intensity actions during heavy fixture periods.
According to literature in this important area, from a coaching or playing perspective, to navigate the fixtures, and generate a playing rhythm, impacting key variables such as travel & logistics, training load management, squad rotation, rest & recovery are vitally important (Carling et al., 2015).
To maintain high-performance levels whilst reducing the impact on injury incidence, evaluation around the key performance components need to be assessed.
One of the leading authorities in the area of fixture congestion at the elite level of the game, Leo Djaoui who is the sport science and conditioning expert in European football club Standard Liège who compete in the Belgium Jupiler Pro League, and the UEFA Europa League on regular occasions has discussed in detail the key variables.
Limited discussion exists around the analysis of technical and tactical performance during congested periods, however the studies that are available showed the minimal impact of technical & tactical data sets through lack of recovery between games.
The studies reported in this area utilised technical markers such as % of passes succeeded, the number of lost passes, and the number of ball touches.
Furthermore, Moreira et al., (2016), observed how young players during a tournament of 7-games in 7-days, revealed a reduction of defensive technical actions, such as the number of interceptions and tackles over the last 3-games of the competition.
ISSPF faculty member and tactical analyst Slawomir Morawski has detailed how the key tactical elements of the game within the ISSPF platform, however understanding how fixture congestion and psychological fatigue influence these key aspects of elite-level performance is of paramount importance.
Describing the injury aspects of fixture congestion, it has been understood from the literature in this research area that they inevitably lead to large increases in accumulative fatigue.
Accumulative fatigue is very apparent when recovery from one competitive game is not fully achieved (<72hrs), prior to starting the next fixture in the block as a result of reduced time period between games.
Within the ISSPF online course in Soccer Science & Performance, faculty member and elite football science & performance coach Dr. Patrick Orme overviews the injury prevalence in the game, highlighting key considerations when aiming to optimally prepare or recover the football athlete.
Some aspects of physical activity have been reported as being significantly impacted during congested fixtures in professional football.
Elite-level research performed by renowned sports scientist and football performance coach Chris Carling observed that total and low-intensity running distances could be reduced during fixture congestion.
Additionally, this was suggested as a potential subconsciously administered strategy that players may use or execute to counter fatigue or insufficient recovery from previous match-play.
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Module 1: The demands of professional soccer: Physiological costs of the game
Lecturer: Dr. Vasilis Kalapthorakos (Greece)
Module 2: Developing Resilience in Soccer: Mental Skill Development
Lecturer: Nikki Crawley (England)
Module 3: Game model building & development: Reinterpreting Tactical Periodisation
Lecturer: Dr. Alejandro Romero-Caballero (Spain)
Topic: Training Methodology
Module 4: Injury reduction strategies in professional soccer
Lecturer: Dr. Patrick Orme (England)
Topic: Injury Prevention
Module 5: Leadership and Culture for High Performance Soccer
Lecturer: Maximillian Lankheit (Germany)
Module 6: Current trends in leading European soccer teams: In-Possession
Lecturer: Chris Meek (England)
Topic: Performance Analysis
Module 7: Soccer nutrition & the role of the nutritionist
Lecturer: Matthew Jones (England)
Module 8: Competitive soccer training microcycle: Structure & justification
Lecturer: Dr. Manuel Segovia (Spain)
Topic: Training Methodology