As I was researching my piece on Jani Honkavaara a while ago, I stumbled upon something interesting, something I had witnessed previously during the summer. Before my eyes were numbers that supported my notion that Jaro were pressing more intensely than any other team in either of the top two tiers of Finnish football this season. I found it interesting, because I had stumbled upon another interesting tidbit even earlier in my digging through the numbers: namely, that Jaro had played quite an impressive season, using mostly homegrown talent and a couple of Mexicans. Is something going on in Pietarsaari? Are Jaro on to something?

Lots of attacking, lots of high pressing (note that some of the statistics are ones where more is worse, like xGA – in their case the percentile ranks have been flipped, which means that for all of the statistics on the graph, more is better)

The modern version of Jaro owes quite a lot to Alexei Eremenko Sr., their coach in their previous stint in the league. A coach with a very distinct style of play, focused around valuing control of the ball over chance creation and – how to put this nicely – aggression bordering on violence, Eremenko made his Jaro into one of the most distinct teams in the league in terms of playing style at a time when possession football was still making its way up north – and relegated them in the process.

Käcko is the first head coach of Jaro to create consistent periods of separation between xG For and xG Against at either level, even if last season did contain a couple of dips in form

Back in 2016, I wrote one of my first blogs about their campaign ending in relegation, and how it was a pretty good example of how xG contains more information about the quality of a team than just shot numbers. Jaro in 2015 was also a very typical example of how having a very distinct style of play isn’t always equivalent to getting good results (VPS being another example).

Käcko’s Jaro, like Eremenko’s did, has a very distinct style of play, only they seem to be getting results in the process – results that can be backed up by their underlying metrics – and played some of the funnest football in the country. That they’ve done so without huge investments in playing staff is an additional bonus, as is the fact that they’ve used a lot of young players rather than Veikkausliiga cast-offs or Ykkönen veterans. Seeing as Jaro started to get results at roughly the same time that Käcko took over, while not seeing huge improvements in playing personnel indicates that a lot of the credit should be apportioned to him. Overall, heading into 2020, Jaro look like a potential candidate to fight for promotion if they can maintain the form that carried them through large portions of last season, and if they can add the right type of players to the existing bunch.

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In terms of playing style, Käcko’s Jaro seem to try to push their opponents wide when pressing up the pitch, hence using the sideline to squeeze space. This allows them to win the ball back in their opponents’ half, giving them the opportunity to spring quick counters whenever possible. This is in stark contrast to Eremenko’s Jaro, who were more comfortable sitting deeper, challenging their opponents in their own defensive third rather than further forward.

When comparing their passing tendencies to their opponents’ this effect becomes further emphasized, as they have overrepresented pass clusters in the same areas in which they tend to win the ball back (essentially, meaning that they play more of these types of passes compared to other teams). Otherwise, their passing tendencies lean towards not playing it short in their own half, especially not centrally, as well as playing long cross field balls from right to left, mostly from center back Johan Brunell to left back Darvin Chavez or wingers Walter Moore or Anthony Olusanya.

Compare this to 2015, when Jaro had a bunch of underrepresented pass clusters in the attacking zones, while their overrepresented pass clusters were short passes in their own half (plus the same diagonal from right to left).

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Now, the nature of Ykkönen means that any success achieved last season can easily end up having very little bearing on this season, as player churn tends to be a factor. Consider, for example, Jahir Barraza, who played an impressive season on loan from Atlas in the Mexican league. His loan spell ended at the end of the season, and although Jaro would likely be interested in acquiring him for 2020 as well, it’s going to be dependent on his desire to return to the Finnish second tier for a second season. Replacing his production will be as difficult as it is imperative if Jaro are going to have any say in the fight for promotion back to the Veikkausliiga.


Essentially, losing Barraza and not finding a competent replacement could be the difference between one of the top places and mid-table mediocrity. The silver lining is that Käcko had Jaro playing well with a moderate player staff already last season, and that they have an intriguing potential replacement in local boy Anthony Olusanya (even though I’m unsure he’d be ready to step up to produce at the level of Barraza next season).

With little budget and few options, who could be alternatives at striker for Jaro, then? AC Oulu fans are trying to crowdfund the signing of Niklas Jokelainen, and that could be something worth trying to intercept if there’s any chance of doing so. He has previous as a similarly active shooter at Ykkönen level, and is a dynamic forward with a wide skill set who could thrive being the main man behind the likes of Olusanya, Severi Kähkönen and Axel Vidjeskog. Another alternative could be to try to get Akseli Ollila, if he doesn’t attract interest from the Veikkausliiga, to switch Olusanya to center forward permanently – although that also seems a little unlikely. In any case, Jaro are looking a good bet to be one of the Ykkönen teams to follow next season.

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