China's women will face The Netherlands' in the opening fixtures of the 2020 FIH Pro League ©FIH

The second season of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Pro League begins this weekend, with inaugural women's champions The Netherlands opening their title defence with two away games against China.

The opening fixtures at the Wujin Hockey Stadium in Changzhou tomorrow and Sunday (January 12), are the first of 144 matches between January and June 2020, with the world's finest men's and women's international teams fighting for the chance to win their respective titles.

China, ranked 10th in the world, finished the first season in seventh place, with four wins to their name.

Under new head coach Wang Yang they will be looking to finish much higher in the table this time around.

But to register a good result in their opening match, China must rewrite the form book against their European counterparts.

The previous two meetings between China and The Netherlands, the reigning world and European champions, were both won by the Dutch, 2-1 and 6-0.

"It will be a really challenging game for us, but hopefully we can do well," China captain Cui Qiuxia said.

"First we have to make sure we don't allow our opponents to score. 

"Once we have sorted our defensive structure, then we need to create scoring opportunities."

Twenty venues in 11 countries will host FIH Pro League matches this year, providing a global spread of world-class hockey across multiple time-zones over the next six months. 

Sixteen of the 18 competing teams will also feature at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Reflecting on last year's inaugural edition, FIH President Narinder Batra said that the event had "allowed the sport of hockey to showcase itself like never before".

However, despite being delighted with many aspects of the first edition, Batra believes that the learnings from season one will make for an even better second edition.

"It is not in our nature to maintain the status quo by simply standing still," he said.

"The 2020 edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League sees the introduction of a new match schedule, splitting home and away matches over two consecutive seasons to create a series of 'double headers' throughout the competition. 

"This is an important move in terms of player welfare and sustainability, significantly reducing travel fatigue and environmental impact by cutting the number of flights by half, which in turn substantially lowers travel and accommodation costs for the competing teams."

Another change from the inaugural edition is the removal of the end-of-season Grand Final event.

The respective men's and women's champions of 2020 will be the teams that have accumulated the highest number of points by the end of the competition.