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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

In Cristiano Ronaldo's absence, Lionel Messi can close the goals gap

Current goals total in La Liga: Ronaldo 31-24 Messi

Cristiano Ronaldo has a thigh injury and will be absent when Real Madrid visit Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, which means Lionel Messi can reduce the goals gap between the two players.

ESPN's projection model predicts that the Argentine, who has scored in each of his last two league games, will have more success when Barcelona host Sporting Gijon.

(Numbers for Messi are based on him starting the game.)

Messi Ronaldo weekend 20160422
Last season, Messi did not play against Sporting Gijon.

2015-16 total goals projection

Ronaldo remains the strong favorite to win the pair's head-to-head scoring battle during the course of the season.

Messi Ronaldo season 20160422
Between them, Ronaldo and Messi have won the past six Pichichi awards, given to the leading scorer in La Liga.

What do you think?

We want your input! Vote and let us know who you think will score the most goals this season, using the hashtag #ESPNFCMessiRonaldo.

2015-16 milestone projection

Messi missed two months of the season with injury, which decreased his chances to hit various goal landmarks. He is still predicted to end the season with an impressive haul, but Ronaldo is tipped for higher numbers.

Messi Ronaldo milestones 20160422
Messi has 310 career goals in La Liga. Ronaldo has 256.

How does the projection model work?

Here's a brief explanation from its creator, ESPN Stats & Information analytics specialist Zach Bradshaw:

"These projections account for the historical performance [goals scored and minutes played] of the two players since 2010, strength of opposing defences faced [measured by SPI defensive rating], game location and the potential for injury or missing games. Based on these inputs, the predictor will estimate the chance of each player scoring any number of goals for each remaining game. From this, we can project the total number of goals scored, hat tricks and the chance of each player accruing more goals than the other over the course of the entire Liga season."

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