The J.League YBC Levain Cup restarts with seven matches of the group stage Match-day 2 taking place on August 5.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the format of the tournament has been changed drastically. The group stage is no longer a home-and-away format (there will be only three match-days) and there will be no play-off stage. The winners of each group and the best second-place team among the four, as well as AFC Champions League participants will advance to the Prime Stage (quarter-finals). J2 side Matsumoto Yamaga in Group B will not participate in the rest of the campaign, and the regulation that requires each team to start at least one U-21 player will not be applied.
Though the competition will be shorter than usual, the value of the title remains the same. The battle for the cup will be as intense as every year!
In Group A, Kawasaki Frontale will meet Kashima Antlers away. The last season’s winners are in great form, having defeated Shimizu S-Pulse in the first match of the competition and winning seven consecutive league matches. Although they might rotate several players due to the tight schedule, they have enough depth to play their attacking football no matter who is on the field. Meanwhile, Kashima, who have lost to Nagoya Grampus on the first day of the Levain Cup, are showing signs of improvement in the league. Youngsters such as Ryotaro Araki and Itsuki Someno could play an important role in this match.
The other game in Group A is between Shimizu S-Pulse and Nagoya Grampus. Shimizu are struggling in the league and have no points in the Levain Cup after losing to Kawasaki. As Peter Cklamovski’s new style is slowly starting to work, they try to make a comeback with their aggressive football. Nagoya have three points from the opening match against Kashima. While they are in form in the league as well, there are concerns over injured players. It could be a big chance for young players waiting for their opportunity to shine.
In the only match in Group B, where Matsumoto Yamaga dropped out, Cerezo Osaka will host Urawa Reds. Since both teams won comfortably their first match, it’s an important clash that could decide who will lead the group. One goal can make the difference between two teams that boast great defense.
The big match in Group C is Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, in which both teams aim for the second consecutive win. Sapporo only have two days to prepare for this game, but the advantage of playing at home. Their rookies, who joined from universities teams this year, are performing well and could be important against Hiroshima. The away side is improving its form, and have won their most recent league match. Their your players are also showing improvement and despite their limited experience, they are very aggressive.
Sagan Tosu host Yokohama FC. After claiming the first victory of the season by beating FC Tokyo last weekend, they are in high spirits. While youngsters such as Kaisei Ishii are leading the team, the experience of veterans such as Yohei Toyoda could be decisive. Yokohama FC are struggling, having lost their last four league matches. Kazuyoshi Miura is expected to make the match squad, and perhaps he could turn things around.
Kashiwa Reysol and Shonan Bellmare meet in Group D. They both won the opening match of the Levain Cup, but their situations in the league are quite different. The former sit in fourth place, while the latter are at the bottom of the table. Kashiwa will try to continue their good form in the cup, and Shonan need new heroes to change pace and overcome the negative period.
Finally, Oita Trinita, who will play against Gamba Osaka at home, are another team that has been struggling in the league. They still boast a solid football style under manager Tomohiro Katanosaka, and a win in the Levain Cup could revive their form. Gamba Osaka are overall in good shape, and might give chances to talented youngsters in this cup fixture. Meanwhile, Gen Shoji is back from injury and could make an appearance.