Premier League stars show progress
Premier League footballers may have never been so well paid - but latest research shows they are working harder than ever and playing the Beautiful Game better than before.
Analysis of performance levels at the top of the English game has shown substantial improvement in pass completion, number of explosive runs and sprinting speed.
The findings show that the Premier League - beloved by fans around the world for its intensity - is getting even faster and physically demanding for players who must combine being ultra-fit athletes as well as highly skilled footballers.
The study by Sunderland University and Chris Barnes, head of sports science at West Bromwich Albion, has been published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine and is the largest of its kind.
It analysed more than 1,000 individual performances in the Premier League, covering the seven years between the 2006/07 season - when Manchester United won the league and Cristiano Ronaldo was voted best player - and 2012/13.
Statistics showed players, including Wayne Rooney and Yaya Toure, were passing and receiving the ball more frequently, and covering greater distance at high intensity.
Players in the 2012/13 season performed 40% more passes with a greater percentage of successful passes than in 2006/07.
The percentage of players with a passing success rate of less than 70% also decreased from 26% in 2006/07 to 9% in 2012/13, thus indicating that the bar has been raised technically in the league.
The findings reflected the increased emphasis on ball retention and short passing, with teams trying to emulate Barcelona's tika-taka style.
The research shows that footballers in the 2013/13 season completed 84% of their passes compared to 76% in the 2006/07 season, and this is despite the 40% increase in the number of passes.
Highlighting the increasing physical demands of Premier League football, the amount of distance covered at high intensity increased by around 30%.
Paul Bradley, a senior lecturer in sport and exercise science at Sunderland University said: "We can clearly see the evolution within the game between 2006/07 and 2012/13.
"It is likely that this is a consequence of players developing physically, technically and tactically in their preparation.
"This now gives professional clubs new benchmarks to be set in terms of typical physical, technical and tactical levels.
"It will also help with the recruitment of players because clubs can look at their capabilities and whether they will fit into the hustle and bustle of the English game and the various tactical systems used."
Mr Barnes added: "There is a commonly held belief that the Premier League has become faster and more physically demanding over recent years.
"This research provides the first objective evidence to back up those beliefs.
"It identifies the specific areas where the game has developed both physically and technically, and thus the findings are of tremendous value to coaches and conditioning staff."