The gap between elite Norwegian and European football

There has been an ongoing debate in Norway the last years in regard to the fitness level of Norwegian elite players. This has largely been due to the previous poor performances from the elite Norwegian clubs in Europe and the national team. The general opinion has been that Norwegian players lack the necessary fitness level to perform at the highest European level. Thus, the question is if this general opinion has any scientific evidence? A recent study published in Norway (1) has examined the physical performance during games of an elite Norwegian team, and gives an indication of the physical performance of elite Norwegian players compared to their European counterparts.

Total distances covered

The study from Ingebrigtsen and Dalen et al. (1) showed that Norwegian players cover a similar total distance to what is reported from the English Premier League (2), Spanish Primera (3) and in several elite European games (4). In regards to distance of high-speed running (> 19.8km×h-1), Norwegian players show a slightly lower distance compared to players from English Premier League (2) and elite European games (4). This indicates that players from the elite Norwegian league runs a similar distance compared to elite players from the European leagues, but with slightly less distance at higher speeds.

Figure 1. Total distance (m) and distance of high-speed running (m) for players from elite Norwegian Tippeliga, English Premier League, Spanish Primera and elite European games. Numbers from references (1-4).

Norsk fotballNumber of sprints and accelerations

An important physical attribute to succeed at elite level in football is the ability to repeat high-intensity actions. An indicator of this is the number of sprints and accelerations performed during a game. In addition to total distances covered, the Norwegian study examined number of sprints and accelerations for players from the elite Norwegian league. The results show a marked difference between elite Norwegian and European football.

Figure 2. Number of accelerations and sprints (> 25.2km×h-1) during games for players from the elite Norwegian Tippeliga and elite European teams. Numbers from references (1) and (4).

Norsk fotball2The Norwegian study (1) showed that players in the elite Norwegian league had significantly less accelerations compared to their European counterparts. On average, the Norwegian players accelerated 91 times during a game, which is 30% less than elite European players who on average accelerated 119 times during a game (4). In regard to number of sprints (> 25.2km×h-1), the players from the elite Norwegian Tippeliga had on average 17 sprints, compared to 36 sprints for elite European players (4).

Summary

The results support a general agreement that total distances covered can’t discriminate between different performance levels. However, the intensity and physical demand in elite European football seems to be higher compared to the elite Norwegian league. This result could indicate that the intensity in elite Norwegian football is lower than the top European leagus, or that players from the elite Norwegian league don’t have the required fitness level to perform the number of accelerations and sprints seen at elite European level.

The results from this article indicates that there is a gap between elite Norwegian football and elite European football when it comes to ability to perform high-intensity and explosive actions. Hence, this seems to be a part of Norwegian football where clubs and players could improve in order to close the gap to the best European teams and players. Increasing the physical abilities of the players to execute more intense actions is achievable, and thus a part of the physical training regime that should have particular attention.

Note: Recent performances of the national team, and Rosenborg and Molde in Europa League, shows that Norwegian football, in terms of overall performance, is closer to elite European football compared to previous years. 

Note:Different tracking systems have been used in order to quantify physical performance in games. It could be that some of the differences is caused by variations in the tracking systems precision.

References
  1. Ingebrigtsen J, Dalen T, Hjelde GH, Drust B, Wisløff U. Acceleration and sprint profiles of a professional elite football team in match play. European Journal of Sport Science. 2014:1-10.
  2. Bradley PS, Sheldon W, Wooster B, Olsen P, Boanas P, Krustrup P. High-intensity running in English FA Premier League soccer matches. Journal of sports sciences. 2009;27(2):159-68.
  3. Di Salvo V, Baron R, Tschan H, Calderon Montero FJ, Bachl N, Pigozzi F. Performance characteristics according to playing position in elite soccer. International journal of sports medicine. 2007;28(3):222-7.
  4. Bradley PS, Di Mascio M, Peart D, Olsen P, Sheldon B. High-intensity activity profiles of elite soccer players at different performance levels. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 2010;24(9):2343-51.

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