Optimism around England’s World Cup hopes has been dented after a new study found Gareth Southgate’s to be one of the most at risk of burnout.
The Player Workload Journey report by global players’ union Fifpro identified England as one of the most overworked of the 32 teams at the tournament in Qatar.
Captain Harry Kane, meanwhile, is among the individual stars to have had the biggest workload in the run-up to the finals.
Footballers have been placed under greater strain than usual by the timing of this year’s first ever winter World Cup, which is being played in a shorter time-frame than usual and has removed the weeks of rest enforced either side of it.
The opening fixture is on Sunday, just seven days after the Premier League paused its season last weekend, while England are due to start their campaign on Monday.
That additional burden has increased the risk of injury to players both during the World Cup and when they return to their clubs straight afterwards.
England are the sixth most overworked team set to play at the finals, according to Fifpro’s study.
Southgate’s squad has accumulated more than 127,000 minutes of playing time since the start of the season, a total behind only Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, France and South Korea.
Portugal and Brazil have also had the biggest workload since the start of this season, with their players averaging around 13 full matches since the beginning of August.
Hosts Qatar have played by far the least minutes in the last 16 months, having taken the unusual step of placing players in a six-month training camp before the tournament.
Saudi Arabia, England’s first Group B opponents Iran, Ghana and Cameroon have accumulated the next least minutes in that period.
England’s talisman Kane and midfielder Declan Rice, meanwhile, both feature in the top 10 most used outfield players since the start of last season.
Kane, who Tottenham Hotspur manager Antonio Conte noted appeared to be exhausted last week, is fifth on the list, with West Ham’s Rice eighth.
Netherlands defender Virgil van Dijk is the most overworked, followed by Portugal’s Joao Cancelo, Sadio Mane of Senegal and Antonio Rudiger of Germany.
“The data emphasises the mental and physical strain many national team players are facing because of a congested match calendar that does not properly consider their health and performance,” said Fifpro deputy general secretary Simon Colosimo.
“I have no doubt each team will put on a tremendous show at the World Cup despite the challenging circumstances.
“However, all professional football stakeholders must refocus their priorities to ensure players benefit from a more balanced calendar and can perform at their peak during key moments of their careers.”
Fifpro high-performance consultant Darren Burgess said players were being placed at “a really high risk” of injury resulting from both overload and underload in the months before the World Cup.
England were due to fly to Qatar on Tuesday and begin preparations for their opening match against Iran. They then face USA on Friday 25 November and complete the group phase against Wales on Tuesday 29 November.