The Chinese Super League 2020 season finally kicks off on Saturday , seven months into the new year and five months after it was originally scheduled. China’s strict measures against the spread of the coronavirus meant that there were times when it looked like the 2020 season would never start , the Chinese FA chairman admitted as much, but its final plan – for games at hubs in Dalian and Suzhou , with players and officials confined to hotels – was approved by authorities. That has been given another scare after new cases in Dalian , with the league monitoring the situation as the city is on “wartime mode”. The players at least have been given the all-clear after tests. CSL champions Guangzhou Evergrande meet Chinese FA Cup winners Shanghai Shenhua, in what would have been the Super Cup. That’s followed by Wuhan Zall, the team from the city that had the first Covid-19 cases which found themselves locked out for more than 100 days, playing CSL newcomers Qingdao Huanghai. So what can we expect? There is a strong chance that there will be more unusual results this season as the format has changed. The first phase sees the 16 teams divided into two groups, one per host city, and facing off twice to decide the table. Those final standings see teams split into a top half and bottom half. CSL foreigners might be trapped outside China until October: reports The top half progress to one-off quarter-finals, with the winner progressing to the semi-final and the loser to classification games, and so on until there is a final and then a champion. The bottom half works much the same but the losers of each game head to the dreaded 15th and 16th place relegation play-off, a game where the loser goes down to China League One and the winner faces a play-off with the second tier’s second placed team. This is essentially cup football and that bodes well for most teams. Over the course of a season Guangzhou Evergrande tend to dominate but they have shown they are beatable. Could it be time for another champion? That is a question for the second half of the season, which is yet to be scheduled. So far there are games until the end of September when the league will break for Li Tie’s China squad to prepare for their Fifa World Cup qualifiers. There is also the AFC Champions League, which could have four CSL teams in at the knockouts to sort, and who knows what impact that will have on the domestic campaign? Transfers are usually the biggest talking point of any preseason but Chinese clubs have kept a low profile this time out. Curbs on spending were planned ahead of Covid-19 but the pandemic has certainly had an affect with several foreigners, such as Tianjin Teda’s Sandro Wagner, refusing to return. Big names have been in short supply but the demise of Tianjin Tianhai has seen a flood of domestic players on the market while Evergrande have allowed many of their veterans to leave. Chinese Super League would be cancelled if unable to complete in 2020 Most clubs are sticking with what they know, such as Shenhua bringing the 35-year-old Obafemi Martins back into the fold. Over-30s have been the order of the day at Hongkou Stadium, with Shenhua signing 10 including Yang Xu from Hebei and Evergrande trio Zeng Cheng, Feng Xiaoting and Yu Hanchao. As it is, the usual suspects will be the ones to watch: Paulinho and Anderson Talisca at Evergrande, Alan and Jonathan Viera at Beijing Guoan and the triple threat of Oscar, Hulk and Marko Arnautovic at Shanghai SIPG. Last year’s top scorer Eran Zahavi will also take some stopping. We have seen from other restarts that goals have come freer and faster now. The biggest move was set to be out of China, with Beijing Guoan’s Kim Min-jae linked with a host of European teams. He has gone nowhere yet. In the dugout, Qingdao Huanghai’s Juanma Lillo was the biggest departure after swapping the CSL for sitting next to Pep Guardiola in the English Premier League. Interestingly the newcomers only announced new boss Pep Machin this week. No football but Chinese Super League crazier than ever Machin is the last in but who will be first out in a league that is often trigger happy when it comes to managers? The format may have changed but it is still the Chinese Super League , after all. The stories over the summer have proved that, from naturalisation problems to Shenhua’s “Expendables” transfer policy to the only player they got under-30 being problematic for fans to discuss on social media . Similarly with Kim at Beijing, who upset football fans with comments on South Korean television. Then there was Shenhua’s new signing Yu being banned by Evergrande for doctoring his number plate or the Guangzhou club fining new signing Fernando or Lillo’s departure being explained as because his mother was sick in Europe. The list goes on. Perhaps the football will get in the way of some of these stories, maybe the hotel confinement will help keep the players out of trouble at least, probably not. Either way, welcome back.