MADRID (AP) — Regardless of who wins the Spanish league, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be battling to the end.
Real Madrid doesn't have much chance of keeping Barcelona from winning the league, but Ronaldo is making a strong run to snag the scoring title from Messi with nine matches remaining.
Ronaldo added another four goals as Madrid beat Girona 6-3 on Sunday, giving him 22 for the season. That is only three behind Messi, who scored his 25th as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0.
"Hopefully he can catch him," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said of Ronaldo. "It's important for him and for us, too. When he's playing well, the team plays well. He transmits an important and positive energy to the group.
"He's always in very good form come the end of the season. He's got an eye for goal and he'll never lose that."
Ronaldo has scored at least one goal in his last eight matches in all competitions. He has 21 in his last 11 games.
"He's unbelievably ambitious and that comes across in every training session and in everything he does on the field," Zidane said. "If he has a penalty in training, he will take it with the maximum concentration. It's what makes him different from the rest."
Ronaldo is trying to keep Messi from winning the top-scorer's "Pichichi" trophy for the second consecutive year. The Argentina forward scored 37 league goals last season, 12 more than Ronaldo.
Ronaldo hasn't won the award since 2015, when he had 48. That was still shy of Messi's record of 50 in 2011-12.
Despite's Ronaldo's impressive run, Madrid trails Barcelona by 15 points after 29 matches. The teams meet again in May at Camp Nou. They could also meet in the Champions League semifinals or the final.
Messi scored twice against Madrid this season — in a 3-1 loss in the Spanish Super Cup at the beginning of the season and in a 3-0 win at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in a league match late last year. Ronaldo scored in that Spanish Super Cup game.
Messi has scored at least once in his last six matches in all competitions. He has at least 25 league goals in nine consecutive seasons with Barcelona.
"Messi is the best player in the world and he shows it game after game," Athletic defender Unai Nunez said after their match on Sunday.
Ronaldo has at least 25 league goals in the last eight seasons. He has 50 career hat tricks, and scored four or more goals in a match with Madrid eight times.
"He's on unbelievable form at the moment," Madrid forward Lucas Vazquez said of Ronaldo. "He helps the team with his work, goals, and assists. Everyone benefits from it."
There were some reports in Spanish media on Monday saying Ronaldo tried to make a deal with tax authorities in a fraud case against him, and that his proposal was reportedly rejected.
"Don't try to erase the beautiful moment I'm going through with fake news," he wrote on Instagram. "Life is good. Blessed."
Last year, a state prosecutor accused Ronaldo of four counts of tax fraud from 2011-14 worth 14.7 million euros ($18 million).
Ronaldo denies any wrongdoing.