The LFC sports science team: From left James Morton, Barry Drust, Jordan Milsom, Ryland Morgans, Tom Brownlee, Andy O'Boyle, Patrick orme, Dave Rydings, Liam Anderson, Olly Morgan and Rob Naughton (Image courtesy of Liverpool FC)

Revealed: The science behind Liverpool FC

The scientific research carried out behind the scenes at Liverpool FC, which supports the players to perform to their maximum, has been explained in a series of recently published papers.

The LFC sports science team: From left James Morton, Barry Drust, Jordan Milsom, Ryland Morgans, Tom Brownlee, Andy O'Boyle, Patrick orme, Dave Rydings, Liam Anderson, Olly Morgan and Rob Naughton (Image courtesy of Liverpool FC)
The LFC sports science team: From left James Morton, Barry Drust, Jordan Milsom, Ryland Morgans, Tom Brownlee, Andy O’Boyle, Patrick orme, Dave Rydings, Liam Anderson, Olly Morgan and Rob Naughton (Image courtesy of Liverpool FC)

The backroom sports science team, led by Ryland Morgans, has recently published a number of peer-reviewed articles that ultimately improves the Reds’ knowledge of the game, supporting the manager and the players. Research was conducted by all full-time fitness staff at the Club and consultants Professor Barry Drust and Dr James Morton.

The sport science team work very closely with Brendan Rodgers, the coaches and physiotherapists. The fitness and science staff monitor the physical condition of players, the physical aspects of training and preparation as well as providing Rodgers with information about where players are when recovering in relation to upcoming matches.

“Our role is to develop individual programmes for players, making sure they are conditioned to deal with the physical demands of the manager’s tactical strategy, which includes a high press when out of possession, and quick explosive transitions. We also monitor players during recovery periods between matches which is supported by a tailored nutritional strategy” said Ryland Morgans, Head of Fitness and Conditioning at Liverpool FC.

“We believe science underpins football and we aim to generate research that develops our knowledge of the game and our players’ responses to training and match-play”, he added.

A number of research articles have recently been published from within the department and are unrivalled in Europe. Most importantly, the scientific findings are used to support decisions made by Rodgers and his staff to help achieve on-pitch success.

The papers are currently being published in various peer-reviewed scientific journals around the world and will benefit those involved in the scientific rationale behind practice, as well as fans who are interested in the science that underpins football.

Research papers

Successful short passing frequency of defenders differentiates between top and bottom four English Premier League teams
David Adams, Ryland Morgans, Joao Sacramento, Stuart Morgan, Morgan D Williams

It is said that dominating ball possession during football matches is a feature of successful English Premier League (EPL) teams. Yet, supporting evidence is unclear.
This study aimed to identify which performance indicators, falling under the umbrella of possession, separates teams that finish at the top versus teams that finish at the bottom of the EPL.
We analysed a range of technical data for defending, midfield and attacking units from all EPL matches played in one season.
We discovered that successful short passes made by defenders was the biggest contributor to the final result of the game.
The second largest contributor was successful passes made in the opposition half by midfielders. The third variable that contributed was unsuccessful passes made by defenders in the opposition half.
Findings suggest that successful EPL teams make use of defenders to build-up play. Maintaining possession via short passes allows the attacking team to move the opponents around the pitch and wait for attacking opportunities to emerge.

Published: International journal of performance analysis in sport

Changes in physical performance variables in an English Championship League team across the competitive season: the effect of possession
Ryland Morgans, David Adams, Richard Mullen, and Morgan D Williams

For this study we monitored and analysed changes in physical match performance of six players from a Championship league team over the course of a season. We also examined the effects of team possession.
Sprint and high intensity distances and the frequency of these efforts were greater in early-season, and were significantly reduced at mid-and-late-season. However, none of these variables were related to team possession.
Total distance covered by players was consistent throughout the season but it was found that players covered less distance when they were in possession of the ball – 29m less for every 1% increase in possession.
Therefore the physical demand on players was lower when the team was in possession of the ball, suggesting better quality teams are able to maintain possession for longer periods in a match which would mean they require less recovery time due to less sprinting and high intensity running.

Published: International journal of performance analysis in sport

Technical and physical performance over an English Championship League season
Ryland Morgans, David Adams, Richard Mullen, Chris McLellan and Morgan D Williams

The English Championship League (ECL) has a demanding ten-month schedule exposing players to residual fatigue if they play the majority of matches, which could reduce physical and technical match performance towards the end of the season.
Over one season we studied 11 ECL players who played the majority of matches to see if differences in physical and technical performance occurred.
From the home matches analysed, only total distance covered was different, it was highest at mid-season (December) compared to two months later (February).
Team possession remained stable throughout the season and the relative total distance covered by the team was calculated to be less (72metres per minute) when the team were in possession.
In summary, maintaining possession during matches may reduce physical demands imposed on players and help preserve performance throughout the season.

Published: International Journal of Sport Science and Coaching

A Comparison of Physical and Technical Match Performance of a Team Competing in the English Championship League and Then the English Premier League Following Promotion
Ryland Morgans, David Adams, Richard Mullen, Joao Sacramento, Chris McLellan, and Morgan Williams

The changes in match demands when a team is promoted from the English Championship League (ECL) to the English Premier League (EPL) remain unknown. To date, estimates of between league differences are made using different teams.
This study explores differences in physical and technical performance of players who competed in the ECL and then the EPL following promotion.
Although total distance covered over the season was the only measure to significantly differ between the ECL and EPL, the 3% increase in total distance in the EPL was deemed practically non-significant.
In the EPL, players had an extra 57 ± 6 hours between matches, yet this had little effect on total, sprint and high intensity distances.
In summary, higher league standard may not require greater physical capacity and developing a tactical strategy to suit the ability of players that is sustainable across leagues is important.

Due to be published in: International Journal of Sport Science and Coaching

High-intensity training and salivary immunoglobulin A responses in professional top-level soccer players: effect of training
Adam L Owen, Del P Wong, Gordon Dunlop, Carole Groussard, Wiem Kebsi, Alexandre Dellal, Ryland Morgans, Hassane Zouhal

This study took saliva samples of 10 elite professional football players to monitor for salivary immunoglobulin A, which helps protect against upper respiratory tract infections, before and after training sessions.
Players took part in four training sessions with varying high and low intensity and durations. Training intensity was monitored as internal (through heart rate responses and RPE) and external (through GPS) loads.
Baseline and pre training salivary immunoglobulin A did not differ between the four training sessions both for high and low intensity.
Post-training salivary immunoglobulin A was not different between high intensity and low intensity sessions after the first three periods. However, at the fourth period, salivary immunoglobulin A concentration for the high intensity session was significantly lower than the low intensity session.
High intensity football training sessions might cause a significant decrease in salivary immunoglobulin A values during the post exercise window as compared with low intensity sessions. This study encourages coaches to monitor salivary immunoglobulin A in routine, particularly during high intensity training periods, to take precautions to avoid upper respiratory tract infection in highly trained football players.

Published: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

An intensive winter fixture schedule induces a transient fall in salivary IgA in English Premier League soccer players
Ryland Morgans, Patrick Orme, Liam Anderson, Barry Drust and James P Morton

We examined the effects of an intensive fixture schedule on salivary immunoglobulin A concentration in professional football players from the English Premier League. Saliva samples were taken from 21 males who participated in seven games over a 30-day period during December 2013 and January 2014 (games one to five occurred in a 15-day period).
Salivary immunoglobulin A decreased at two days post-game three, four and five compared with game one. When the normal fixture schedule resumed (i.e. one game per week), salivary immunoglobulin A returned towards baseline. So games six and seven values were not different from game one.
Data showed, for the first time, that a congested winter fixture schedule could cause concern in the lack of immunity for upper respiratory tract infections in professional football players.

Published: Sports Medicine

Pre-match salivary IgA in soccer players from the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign
Ryland Morgans, Adam Owen, Dominic Doran, Barry Drust and James P Morton

We set out to monitor levels of salivary immunoglobulin A levels in international football players during the short-term training period that precedes international match play.
Saliva samples were taken from thirteen outfield footballers who participated in the training camps preceding seven games (five home and two away) of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.
Samples were obtained daily for four days before each game at match day (MD) minus 1 (MD-1), minus 2 (MD-2), minus 3 (MD-3) and minus 4 (MD-4).
Salivary immunoglobulin A showed a progressive decline during the 4-day training period such that MD-1 values were significantly lower than both MD-4 and MD-3.
The data collected shows that a short-term training camp in preparation for international competition can lower salivary immunoglobulin A, leaving world-class athletes susceptible to a lack of immunity Future studies should monitor salivary immunoglobulin A (as a practical and non-invasive measurement of immunity) alongside internal and external measures of training load in an attempt to strategically individualise training and nutritional strategies that may support optimal preparation for high-level competition.

Published: International journal of physiology and performance

An English championship league soccer team did not experience impaired physical match performance in second match after 75 hours of recovery
Ryland Morgans, David Adams, Richard Mullen, Chris McLellan and Morgan Williams

The purpose of this study was to examine the hormonal and neuromuscular responses and physical match performance in a second match after 75 hours of recovery in English Championship League (ECL) football players during a mid-season weekly period.
Nine male professional outfield footballers whose average age, height, and mass were 25.7 years, 180 cm, 78.1 kg respectively from an ECL team competed in two matches separated by 75 hours.
The players completed an optional post-match recovery strategy that included: massage, cold-water immersion, or low intensity dynamic movement.
Team possession was greater in match two compared to match one (48 to 62%) while average pass frequency by each player increased in match two.
High intensity running was significantly greater during the second half of match 2 in comparison to the first half.
Salivary cortisol was significantly elevated immediately post-match one compared to baseline. Jump height was reduced post-match one for up to 40 hours.
In conclusion, the ECL football players in this study did not experience impaired physical performance in the second match after 75 hours of recovery, indicating that players coped with this short recovery period between matches. In addition, support for the use of athlete monitoring to assess recovery status is evident since each match elicited different post-match hormonal and neuromuscular responses.

Published: Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning Association

Body composition assessment of English Premier League soccer players: a comparative DXA analysis of first team, U21 and U18 squads
Jordan Milsom, Robert Naughton, Andy O’Boyle, Zafar Iqbal, Ryland Morgans, Barry Drust and James P. Morton

Professional soccer players from the first team under twenty-one and under eighteen squads of an English Premier League soccer team were assessed for whole body and regional estimates of body composition using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Per cent body fat was lower in 1st team compared with both U21 and U18 players. However, this difference was not due to variations in fat mass between squads but rather the presence of more lean mass in 1st team and U21 compared with U18 players. Accordingly, fat mass index was not different between squads, whereas lean mass index was greater in 1st team players compared with U18 players. Differences in lean mass were also reflective of higher lean tissue mass in all regions, for example, upper limbs/lower limbs and trunk. Data suggest that training and nutritional interventions for younger players should therefore be targeted to lean mass growth as opposed to body fat loss.

Published: Journal of Sports Sciences, 2015