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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Can Lionel Messi take advantage of Cristiano Ronaldo's ongoing absence?

Current goals total in La Liga: Ronaldo 31-25 Messi

Cristiano Ronaldo's muscle injury will keep him out of Real Madrid's visit to Real Sociedad, meaning Lionel Messi has another chance to close the goals gap between the two.

With three games remaining in the Spanish league season, Ronaldo leads by six, but ESPN's projection model predicts that Messi, who has scored in each of his past three matches, has a great chance to find the net again when Barcelona visit Real Betis.

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

Messi Ronaldo weekend 20160429
Last season, Messi did not play against Real Betis.

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 20160429
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 20160429
Messi has 311 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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