The Effect of Fixture Congestion on Performance During Professional Male Soccer Match-Play: A Systematic Critical Review with Meta-Analysis

Ross Julian, Richard Michael Page, Liam David Harper

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

Background
Fixture congestion (defined as a minimum of two successive bouts of match-play, with an inter-match recovery period of < 96 hours) is a frequent and contemporary issue in professional soccer due to increased commercialisation of the sport and a rise in the number of domestic and international cup competitions. To date, there is no published systematic review or meta-analysis on the impact of fixture congestion on performance during soccer-match play.
Objective
We sought to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature related to the effects of fixture congestion on physical, technical, and tactical performance in professional soccer match-play.
Methods
Adhering to PRISMA guidelines and following pre-registration with the Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/fqbuj), a comprehensive and systematic search of three research databases was conducted to identify articles related to soccer fixture congestion. For inclusion in the systematic review and meta-analysis, studies had to include male professional soccer players, a congestion period that contained two matches ≤ 96 hours, and have outcome measures related to physical, technical or tactical performance. Exclusion criteria comprised non-male and/or youth players, data that only assessed impact of congestion on injury, used simulated protocols, or were grey literature such as theses or dissertations.
Results
Out of sixteen articles included in the systematic review, only five were eligible for the meta-analysis, and the only variable that was measured consistently across studies was total distance covered. Fixture congestion had no impact on total distance covered (p = 0.134; pooled standardized mean difference; Hedge’s G = 0.12 [-0.04, 0.28]). Between-study variance, heterogeneity, and inconsistency across studies were moderate (Cochrane’s Q = 6.7, p = 0.150, I2 = 40.7% [CI: 0.00, 93.34]. Data from articles included in the systematic review suggests fixture congestion has equivocal effects on physical performance, with variation between studies and low quality of research design in some instances. Tactical performance may be negatively impacted by fixture congestion; however, only one article was identified that measured this element. Technical performance is unchanged during fixture congestion; however, again, research design and the sensitivity and relevance of methods and variables requires improvement. 
Conclusion
Total distance covered is not impacted by fixture congestion. However, some studies observed a negative effect of fixture congestion on variables such as low- and moderate-intensity distance covered, perhaps suggesting that players employ pacing strategies in order to maintain high-intensity actions. There is a lack of data on changes in tactical performance during fixture congestion. With ever increasing numbers of competitive matches scheduled, more research needs to be conducted using consistent measures of performance (e.g., movement thresholds) with an integration of physical, technical and tactical aspects.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalSports Medicine
Early online date17 Oct 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Oct 2020

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