Chennaiyin FC striker Petar Sliskovic is a man in form. The Croatian forward has netted five goals in Chennaiyin FC’s last six games, taking his tally to eight goals for the current Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season. 

The Marina Machans may have missed the presence of key players like Abdenasser El Khayati, Kwame Karikari, Anirudh Thapa and a few others throughout the season, but Sliskovic’s contribution has been vital. Thomas Brdaric’s side are currently placed eighth in the Hero ISL standings but have scored the third-most goals in the league (24) after Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC. Sliskovic alone has had a hand in 11 of those goals, with three assists to add to his eight goals.  

Sliskovic has scored eight goals in his last nine matches and has failed to find the back of the net in just two of those games. That has helped him become Chennaiyin FC’s top goalscorer this season. Hero ISL expert Paul Masefield and commentator Mark Tompkins feel the CFC No. 9 has massively benefited from the service he has been receiving. 

“Sliskovic is a fantastic striker. He plays with his back to the goal, bringing others into play. But then you got to look at the quality that’s coming from the wide areas. Aakash Sangwan has been playing well in the left-back role and delivering quality into the box. On the right-hand side, they have Vincy Barretto as well, who has looked lively and is very quick. That quality is what Sliskovic thrives on. He manages to get himself in and around where the ball is going to be. To be fair, the youngsters have been doing that this season. They are putting the ball where it needs to be. And when you’ve got someone with the height and physique of Sliskovic, it’s very difficult to mark him,” Masefield says. 

Tompkins also has a similar view. “I think the reason he is scoring so well at the moment is that he is getting good service from the players behind him, particularly Ajith Kumar and Aakash Sangwan. Sangwan was outstanding in the last game, getting forward and putting in crosses. With a player of Sliskovic’s heading ability, he will always pose a problem for defenders. But with Vincy behind him as well, adding a little pace to the side, Sliskovic can feed off him. He reminds me of an old-fashioned centre-forward. A big number nine who is in the right place at the right time. His positioning is excellent.” says Tompkins.

Sliskovic has been among the three Chennaiyin FC players besides Fallou Diagne and Julius Duker to feature in all of Chennaiyin FC’s matches. A towering presence in front of goal, Sliskovic is just a goal shy of the league’s current joint-top scorers in Cleiton Silva and Jorge Diaz, who have nine goals each. 

The 31-year-old has also been a vital team player in terms of creating chances. He has created 15 chances so far, and only full-back Aakash Sangwan has created more chances for Chennaiyin FC this season (17).

“Sliskovic without question is one of the in-form strikers at the moment. Five goals in six matches and eight goals in total. He has scored six goals with his head, which is the most we have seen in a single season of the Hero ISL,” says Tompkins. 

The El Khayati boost

One of the most influential creative midfielders this season, Abdensser El Khayati has been forced to sit out Chennaiyin FC’s last three fixtures due to an injury. During these three away games, Chennaiyin FC went down narrowly to league leaders Mumbai City FC, but managed to salvage a point against Jamshedpur FC and Hyderabad FC respectively. El Khayati’s absence may have been a blow for CFC, but Sliskovic got on the scoresheet in all the three games.

“Without El Khayati in the side, they have had to use him (Sliskovic) as a focal point. They have had to get the ball to him and hope that he continues his goalscoring run,” explains Tompkins.   

However, despite playing just seven games this season, El Khayati has managed to register as many goals this season. El Khayati and Sliskovic have the same number of goal contributions this season (11), and the former’s return from injury is bound to add teeth to Chennaiyin FC’s attack.   

“El Khayati’s absence hasn’t helped the way things are going. But sometimes, they need to have that fresh ability off the bench or even starting games. So he has been a big miss, but he will be back in the next week or so. And if that’s the case, he will be able to help Chennaiyin FC push for that top-six spot. He has been critical, and they have missed that extra dimension to try something different. That’s what El Khayati brings to the team,” says Masefield. 

Can CFC make it to the playoffs?

Four points adrift of sixth-placed FC Goa and with a game in hand, Chennaiyin FC are not far away as they look to reach the Hero ISL playoffs after two seasons. Brdaric’s side have shipped more goals than they have scored this season. However, Masefield believes Chennaiyin FC have improved for the better in the last few weeks.  

“Their season over the last couple of weeks has been galvanised, and they have got better. The players understand each other. They are putting decent balls into the box. It’s just the individual mistakes that’s costing them. If they can stop those defensive errors, they could have a little push for that sixth spot,” he says.

All eyes may be on El Khayati’s return, but there’s no doubting Sliskovic's importance to CFC. Going by his current form, the Croatian might well emerge as the vital figure in Chennaiyin FC’s hunt for the playoff spot and a serious contender for the Golden Boot award as well.  

“Chennaiyin FC have been crying out for a new Stiven Mendoza or a new Elano for several years. And maybe this season, Sliskovic is the man who could get double figures and get them to the playoffs because if he keeps this run of scoring going, that’s certainly possible for Chennaiyin FC,” concludes Tompkins.