This study investigated exposure to periods of match congestion in regular starter players in a professional soccer team across 4 competitive seasons (2009-2013). Players were divided into 2 groups: club players (club match exposure only, n = 41) and national team players (club and national team exposure, n = 22). The frequency of congested periods that players were potentially exposed to per season was initially determined: 2-match cycles - potential exposure to 2 successive matches separated by a ≤ 3-day interval calculated immediately from the end of play in match 1 to the start of play in match 2 occurred on 12.5 ± 5.1 and 16.0 ± 4.7 occasions for club and national team players, respectively. Multiple-match cycles: potential exposure to 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-matches played successively within a ≤ 4-day period commencing from the day after each match occurred on 8.5 ± 2.1, 4.3 ± 1.7, 3.0 ± 0.8 and 1.8 ± 0.5 occasions for club and 11.5 ± 2.4, 6.5 ± 0.6, 4.5 ± 1.9 and 3.0 ± 1.4 occasions for national team players, respectively. With regard to actual exposure in club and national team players, respectively, participation in both matches in 2-match cycles attained 61.2% and 59.3% while 90-min play in both matches was only completed on 38.2% and 40.5% of occasions and ≥75-min play on 47.6% and 50.0% of occasions, despite availability to play in both groups being >86%. While availability to play in all players was frequently >70% for multiple-match cycles, a trend was observed for a sharp decline in participation as the number of matches in the cycles increased. Therefore, the present players were not extensively exposed to periods of fixture congestion.
Keywords: fatigue; injury; match congestion; recovery.