Conversations with Ivan Andre Baptista: The influence of formation on footballers’ physiological load

In the eyes of the casual football observer, the extent to which the sport is influenced by the latest science advances tends to be in injury treatment, particularly on the pitch. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. More and more, the modern game is tied to work done by scientists, whether it be improved conditioning methods or sneaker technology or carb rinses during a match.

Ivan Andre Baptista studied the physical demands on each position in two common football tactics. He discussed his findings with us.

Ivan Andre Baptista

SCIENTIFIC INQUIRER: What prompted you to explore the role of football formation on the physiological demands/player load on footballers?

IVAN ANDRE BAPTISTA: Football scientific literature is rich in physical and physiological demands of trainings and matches. However, the connections between these demands and the tactical behaviour in football are still scarce and require further research. This lack of information in the literature as well as the fact that team’s tactical systems and the positioning and distribution of the players on the pitch are considered an important strategic decision in football, led us to explore deeper this topic.

SI: Why hadn’t more people taken the effects of formation on the physicality of play?

IAB: Some previous research has started to explore these effects, but the complexity of tactical systems and their respective dynamics between and within matches is still a challenge to solve.

SI: Why were there some conflicting data in studies that did focus on different formations?

IAB: The conflicting data might appear due to different reasons, but in this particular case, we believe that the differences in the methodologies used between our study and the other previous studies is the main reason. The fact that teams with similar tactical formations (e.g. 1-4-5-1) might present different tactical principles and dynamics, has to be considered as one possible cause for such differences.

SI: Why did you choose 4–5-1 and 3-5-2 formations?

IAB: The 1-4-5-1 and 1-3-5-2 formations were used due to the particular context of the team analysed. In fact, we didn’t choose these formations, since we didn’t have any influence on the decision of which tactical system the team played with. The change of head coach led to a change of tactical system and we just used this particular context to carry our research.

SI: What were your findings?

IAB: In general, the results of our study suggest that match physical demands do not differ considerably between the two tactical systems analysed, when compared by playing position. However, when playing position was not taken into consideration, the work-load of the whole team was significantly different (in some specific variables) between tactical systems used.

SI: In your discussion, you state that during the study, there was a change in head coach and tactical formation and style of play. How was your data affected?

IAB: The change of head coach led to a change of tactical system used and this change became the foundation of this study. We aimed to find how would this change of formation influence the match physical performance of the players. Naturally, we were expecting a change in the match data since the team started to occupy and move on the pitch in a different way. This change affected particularly some positions, with centre backs covering less space and full-backs/wing-backs having more space to cover when playing in (1-3-5-2).

The results presented in our study and previously mentioned show that this change affected the data mostly when playing positions were not taken into consideration and the whole team workload was analysed.

SI: What effect does the score line have on players work rate?

IAB: The score line effects on players work-rate have been studied in previous research. Lago, C. (2009) and Bradley, P. et al. (2015) have suggested that teams who are winning the match tend to relax and decrease their work-rate. Furthermore, Castellano, J. et al. (2011) and Lago-Penas, C. et al. (2010) have shown in their studies that teams who are losing the match may increase their work-rate while the goal difference does not increase negatively (conceding more goals).

SI: There are a lot of variables that can influence a player’s work rate. How can the effects be taken into account and minimized?

IAB: In research, the confounders are always something we need to consider when designing the methodology. However, sometimes we just need to accept that they exist and try to minimize their effect, because it is almost impossible to control all of them. We believe that reporting and discussing these possible confounders within the article will help readers and practitioners to be aware of these limitations and extract the findings in the best possible way to apply in their reality.

SI: How can your findings be utilized in by football teams? What benefits do they provide?

IAB: This study suggests that the change of tactical system might influence, specific variables of the team’s global match activity profile, and those differences should be taken into consideration when implementing training programs. However, since differences are not obvious in all playing positions, these findings must be interpreted with particular caution, as differences observed might be team dependent. This is why we tried to associate and describe the differences of the style of play adopted on the two tactical systems analysed, since we strongly believe that the tactical structure adopted is meaningless by itself, if not combined with a specific explanation of the style of play.

Finally, we suggest that the individualization and specialization of the training should be a matter of reflection and analysis from coaches.

SI: Finally, what is next for you in terms of research?

IAB: Our research group has been focusing, during the past 4 years, on the position specific demands and individualization of training in elite level. This article was a small part of the project and more research within this field will come.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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