Research reveals Premier League is getting tougher at the top
The study, published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, investigated the evolution of match performances in the Premier League with particular emphasis on league ranking and was led by Dr Paul Bradley and Chris Barnes (West Bromwich Albion FC).
The researchers analysed the performances of more than 1,000 individual players across 23,000 match observations between the 2006-07 and 2012-13 Premier League seasons, using Prozone data. Their findings demonstrate that the performance gap between the top four teams (Tier A) of the Premier League and those finishing in 5th-8th position (Tier B) is decreasing.
Results from the study found the most pronounced increases in physical performance were for explosive metrics such as high-intensity running and sprinting. All tiers covered more high-intensity running distance in possession of the ball during the 2012–13, compared to 2006–07, season. However, Tier A increased by just 15% in that time whereas Tier B increased by 50%.
Whilst at the start of the study, Tier A teams covered markedly greater high-intensity running distances in possession of the ball than Tier B, by 2012–13 distances covered were virtually identical. Tier B clubs also demonstrated greater sprint distances compared to those in Tier A (1st-4th), Tier C (9th-14th) and Tier D (15th-20th).
Over the period of the study, Tier A players consistently demonstrated the highest levels of technical performance (e.g. number of passes and successful passes), unsurprisingly as the most technically competent teams are expected to finish highest in the Premier League. However, over the seven seasons analysed in the study, whilst passes made and received by Tier A players increased by 13% and 19% respectively, much larger increases were observed in Tier B (81% and 113%), Tier C (22% and 35%) and Tier D (43% and 60%). The study also found that the points difference between Tier A and Tier B clubs was reduced between 2006-07 to the 2012-13 season.
Speaking about the findings, lead researcher Dr Paul Bradley, said: “Our study shows that physical and technical performances have evolved more in clubs aspiring to play Champions League football than any other clubs in the Premier League. This indicates that there has been a narrowing of the performance gap between these clubs and the traditional top four.”
He continued: “This finding could be reflective of a reduction in the tactical and territorial dominance of the top four clubs relative to those chasing clubs, or could simply mean that the top clubs are unafraid of leaving possession to lower ranked sides as they believe they have the physical, tactical and technical ability to cope. In summary, the results of our study reveal not just a league which has evolved both physically and technically, but one where the greatest pace of change has occurred in teams finishing between 5th and 8th place.”
Dr Paul Bradley is a BASES (British Association for Sport and Exercise Sciences) accredited Sports and Exercise Scientist with chartered Scientist status. His general research area is the physiology of intermittent exercise, with special reference to football. His research focuses on the testing and conditioning of elite football players.The paper can be read in full at http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showAxaArticles?journalCode=rjsp20