The 2021 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP is down to just four teams, and this week the finalists will be determined by a pair of two-legged semi-final ties. In one clash, we have the cup holders F.C.Tokyo taking on Nagoya Grampus, while the other features Urawa Reds and Cerezo Osaka.
Tokyo captured the crown last season primarily thanks to an outstanding defense that allowed just one goal through the knockout stages, but they’ve flipped the script in this year’s tournament. The capital club scored four to beat Shonan Bellmare in the play-off stage after winning their group before following that up with three against Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the quarters. It’s been the attack leading the way for Tokyo, and it’s been a collective effort, as nobody has scored more than two goals.
The Nagoya defense will be challenged by Tokyo’s goalscoring prowess, but if any team is well-suited to the challenge it is Grampus, who are led from the back by record-breaking goalkeeper Mitch Langerak. The league’s second-best defense shut out a good Kashima Antlers side in the quarter-finals and will not be missing many players to international duty, making this truly a heavyweight battle over two bouts.
In the other semi-final, Urawa enter on a high after knocking mighty Kawasaki Frontale out in the quarter-finals. The Reds have pummeled opposing defenses to get here, hitting Frontale for four goals in the tie and scoring four in the previous round, too, to beat Vissel Kobe. Kasper Junker and Takahiro Sekine have three goals each in this year’s cup and make for a threatening Urawa attack.
Whether Cerezo can keep Urawa in check remains to be seen. Their back line has been leaky in the league, where they have lost four of their last five, but an impressive attack has carried them to this point in the cup. The Cherry Blossoms were particularly potent going forward in the second leg of the quarter-finals, winning 4-0 at crosstown rivals Gamba Osaka.
The two-legged ties will begin on Wednesday in Nagoya and Saitama, before the weekend’s second legs determine who will play for cup glory on October 30.