Artificial crowd noises, a season decided in 2019 on goal difference and a 41-year-old prolific striker. We give you the K-League, writes Jamie Pacheco...
"Taking Ulsan out of the equation and the next biggest-priced team to win this weekend are Suwon Bluewings at [3.9], proof that this is a pretty tight league where there’s not much to choose between many of the sides."
Live football has been in short supply over the last few weeks. Fancy that. It has of course been business as usual over in the Belarusian Premier League, giving proper football addicts something to follow (some have inevitably adopted a favourite team 'for life' already), journalists something to talk about and B.B tipsters something to recommend wagers on.
Over in Germany, the much-awaited return of the Bundesliga will be the main event this coming weekend, but things have already gotten underway over in South Korea's K-League 1. It kicked off last Friday, but it wasn't quite football as we know it.
Football, but not as you know it
No fans at the stadium but instead a message reading 'Stay strong' and artificial crowd noises played to create some sort of atmosphere.
Players' temperatures were checked, teams ran onto the pitch separately, coaching staff and subs wore masks, scorers were banned from excessive celebrations, pre-match handshakes were replaced by respectful bows of the head, while spitting was a real no-no on the night.
Just some of the things you would have seen had you tuned into to watch defending champions the Jeonbuk Motors beat the Suwon Bluewings 1-0 in the K-League 1's opening fixture last weekend.
It was a rather dull match where 41 year-old Lee Dong-gook's header from a corner was the difference between the two sides but then again no-one was really watching it expecting free-flowing football and end-to-end goalmouth action, when viewing the game on YouTube or the league's Twitter feed.
We were all just glad that it was real football and not just another video on social media of footballers playing FIFA on their consoles or one where household items such as cakes and bars of soap were standing in for Sergio Aguero upfront, or Andrew Robertson on the left flank.
Asia's oldest football league
There's more of the same in the K-League 1 this weekend. The South Korean League is the oldest in Asia and is made up of 12 teams. Finish rock bottom and you're down, 11th means you're in a relegation play-off and finishing third gets you qualification to the AFC Champions League play-off round.
The runner-up and winner qualify automatically to the AFC Champions League and the winner tends to be the aforementioned Jeonbuk Motors, who have won five of the last six editions. It was a close-run thing last time out, though. After 38 matches they were tied on 79 points with Ulsan Hyundai, defending their title thanks to a superior goal difference of +40 compared to +32.
It could be more of the same with a hard-fought battle between the two again for the right to be champions; they ended 23 points clear of third-placed FC Seoul.
Are in short supply. The scorer of that winner on Friday Lee Dong-gook is a K-League 1 legend with over 500 matches in the division under his belt, making him the second most experienced K-League player ever. His 224 goals are more than anyone else and for good measure, he also ranks second for the most assists in the league, with 77. A far cry from the 23 league appearances he made for Middlesbrough back in the 2007-8 season that yielded precisely zero goals. He's been capped 105 times for his country.
Australian international Adam Taggart was the league's top scorer last year with 20 goals for Suwon Samsung Bluewings, while Brazilian Cesinha put in a real shift for Daegu FC, chipping in with 15 goals and 10 assists.
Teams are allowed to field five foreign players including at least one from the AFC confederation and the league has exports from the likes of Brazil, South Africa, Japan, Nigeria, Denmark, Norway and Colombia, though unsurprisingly, we're not talking household names here.
Sadly, there's no suggestion that Son Heung-min of Tottenham is going to make a cameo appearance for a K-League side in between finishing his much-publicised military service for his country and self-isolating after returning to the UK.
This weekend in the K-League...
Matches are generally played in what is Saturday and Sunday morning for us in western Europe, between about 06:00 and midday.
This weekend our friends over at Jeonbuk Motors are in action at newly promoted Ulsan Hyundai and look a potential wager at [1.73] given their record in this competition and the fact they're up against newcomers who lost last weekend.
The most intriguing match of all though might be Daegu FC against Pohang Steelers. They finished fourth (Pohang) and fifth last year, separated by just a point, and it could be a close one here with visitors Pohang arguably the value as [3.35] outsiders.
Taking Ulsan out of the equation and the next biggest-priced team to win this weekend are Suwon Bluewings at [3.9], proof that this is a pretty tight league where there's not much to choose between many of the sides.
It should all be pretty good to watch and provide for some decent betting opportunities. Even if it isn't vintage football, now isn't the time to be demanding sky-high standards.