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How Far Do Soccer Players Run in a Game?

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Anybody who has watched a Champions League match will be familiar with the graphic that appears on screen calculating the distance a player has travelled in the course of the game. This is calculated using 16 cameras which divide the pitch up into 16 unique regions and send their feed to laptops which calculate the trajectories of the field and the ball.

Statistics suggest that, at the top level, a footballer who plays a full 90 minutes will cover anywhere between 8 to 13 km, although the distance covered varies by position. Midfielders will run the furthest, whilst central defenders will run less.

Goalkeepers normally cover between 2.5 and 3 km per game.

In England, players in the Championship will actually cover more distance per game than their counterparts in the Premier League. 

The difference though is that players at the elite level have the faster ball movement and sprints in the final third, one reason why promoted teams often find it hard to cope with the higher level.

By way of indication, the available evidence suggests that elite players run up to 1.5 to 2 km further a game than they did 30 years ago.

One myth is that soccer players need to have a good aerobic capacity in order to excel at the sport, but it is not the be all and end all, and cannot be compared to long distance running, which is continuous movement.

Instead, during a match players run for approximately 70% of a match but in short, high intensity sprints, which is why most coaching focuses on dynamic sprinting drills.

There are external factors why the players run further to do with the speed of the game. In the first place pitches are far better than they used to be when mud-heaps were common even at some of the biggest clubs.

The balls are also much lighter and travel further. Old balls were made of leather and were heavy, particularly when it was rainy and they absorbed water. Consequently, with a combination of the ball and the heavy pitches, play would often be condensed in one area of the pitch, meaning that they were was no need to chase after it.

The modern player is undoubtedly fitter and takes better care of their bodies than the former counterparts. There is much greater emphasis on nutrition and diet, and the drinking culture, once an integral part of many clubs, has largely been eradicated.

Top clubs also employ sports scientists and nutritionists who will work out individual training plans designed so that each player can reach their peak of physical fitness.

It is also true that football is a much more data driven business than it used to be so metrics like distance and speed covered are given greater weight than used to be the case. Now players are tracked by monitors which track every aspect of their performance in training and in matches, and such statistics are a key determinant when deciding whether to bid for a player in the transfer market.