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Mapping the match: analysing the UEFA Women's Champions League

UEFA research pinpoints physical demands at elite level.

Can your wide midfielders deliver 17 high-speed runs at an average of 28.4km/h? Are your full-backs or wing-backs prepared to invest 60% of their sprinting in transition play? Are your centre-backs (who generally cover less ground than other outfielders) ready, willing and able to do 84% of their top-speed running when the team is out of possession? Does the team have sufficient fuel in the tank for high-octane performance in search of a result (or to avoid conceding) in the closing minutes?

These are some of the questions posed by UEFA analysis of the physical demands of matchplay among the top eight teams in the last two seasons of UEFA Women’s Champions League football, with a view to offering benchmark references to those involved in the development of the women’s game.

UEFA's new study examines the distances players covered across the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons
UEFA's new study examines the distances players covered across the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons

This report aims to support research into women’s football which has been growing in recent years with in-depth performance data. And the subject takes on even greater relevance at a time when performance parameters are evolving rapidly. Previous studies of the Women’s World Cups in 2015 and 2019 revealed that from one final tournament to the other, the amount of high-intensity running increased by 15% and 29% respectively, whilst in the the UEFA Women’s Champions League, the study reveals a 10% rise in high-intensity running in a single season – though it has to be said that the pandemic hampered many preparation programmes in the 2019/20 season.

2019/20 UEFA Women's Champions League final highlights

The UEFA research, which is shared with Women's Champions League clubs and available for fans, players and coaches to download and view for free, attacks the subject from different angles, analysing, for example, the physical demands of different playing positions. Central midfielders, the study points out, might dominate ‘distance covered’ stats. However, demands in the highest speed zones are generally greater for wide midfielders, wide defenders and forwards – an aspect that can be factored into the design of training programmes and sessions. On average per game, the wide players contribute 17 sprints at a mean speed of 28.4km/h.

Teams covered an average combined distance of 104,165 metres during matches across the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons
Teams covered an average combined distance of 104,165 metres during matches across the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons

The report confirms that teams cover greater distances in their out-of-possession play, with attack-to-defence transitions generally requiring a higher-intensity work with a greater proportion of distances in the higher speed zones. The need to work harder out of possession was illustrated by VfL Wolfsburg in the 2020 UEFA Women’s Champions League final against Olympique Lyonnais when only 35% of the distance covered at high speed was when the German side had possession of the ball. One of the striking changes between the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons was that, in the latter, sprinting in Speed Zone 5 while out of possession increased by 30%.

2020/21 UEFA Women's Champions League final highlights

The study also features an in-depth analysis of the peak outputs which football conditioning programmes need to cater for. Data demonstrate a tendency for teams to start strongly, registering peak physical outputs in the opening eight minutes. A clear pattern emerged of running demands peaking more frequently at the start of the second half and during the period between the 86th minute and the final whistle, when results may have been in the balance. This provokes thoughts on the strategic use of substitutes and the need to equip players to produce higher peak outputs when they are fatigued. The challenge here is to train this aspect and to insert it at optimal stages of the squad’s rest-and-recovery cycles from match to match.

The report offers a fascinating insight into the physical demands of top-tier women’s match play at the highest level. And knowledge of the most intensive demands in highly competitive football can help in the development of specific training drills and programmes. People seeking benchmark references for elite women’s football know where to look…

View the full report