This study aimed to analyze and compare the match running performance during official matches across four seasons (2015/2016-2018/2019) in the top two professional leagues of Spanish football. Match running performance data were collected from all matches in the First Spanish Division (Santander; n = 1520) and Second Spanish Division (Smartbank; n = 1848), using the Mediacoach® System. Total distance and distances of 14-21 km·h-1, 21-24 km·h-1, and more than 24 km·h-1, and the number of sprints between 21 and 24 km·h-1 and more than 24 km·h-1 were analyzed. The results showed higher total distances in the First Spanish Division than in the Second Spanish Division (p < 0.001) in all the variables analyzed. Regarding the evolution of both leagues, physical demands decreased more in the First Spanish Division than in the Second Spanish Division. The results showed a decrease in total distance and an increase in the high-intensity distances and number of sprints performed, although a clearer trend is perceived in the First Spanish Division (p < 0.001; p < 0.01, respectively). Knowledge about the evolution of match running performance allows practitioners to manage the training load according to the competition demands to improve players' performances and reduce the injury rate.
Keywords: external load; longitudinal study; match running performance; professional soccer leagues; sports performance.