Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan has conceded there is a gap in quality between themselves and Barcelona but believes the Premier League runners-up are on the way to closing the margin.
Both sides have regularly featured in the latter stages in the Champions League in recent seasons and face each other in an upcoming pre-season friendly, and Phelan admits the Spanish giant are the side to beat in the continent.
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Speaking ahead of the clash, Phelan admitted: "I think there is a gap there [between United and Barcelona]. But there's a gap for a lot of teams, not just ourselves. Barcelona have been exceptional - they've combined experience and youth and maintained success.
“The challenge for us is to compete. It will take time but we're not that far away. We've been in three European finals and we've won one. Now we're hungry to continue that. Barcelona are the ones to catch."
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Phelan also revealed Johnny Evans is closing in on full fitness but fellow defender Chris Smalling remains some way off a return to action, and the club are wary of picking up further injuries during pre-season.
"At the moment, Chris Smalling is going to be a bit longer in his recovery,” he added. “He's had a setback, an injury, and he's progressing slowly.
“Jonny Evans will hopefully be available when we get back [from Europe]. He's back doing light work on the training ground. We hope he'll be available for the start of the season. He won't have had the games under his belt but if he's fit and progressing well we'll push him forward."
"As a club, you look at the issues that may have caused injuries. Some of those are created on the pitch and there's not a lot you can do about that.
“Maybe some have crept in through overuse or overwork but we've analysed those things and we're sure our players are prepared for what's always a hard league.
“All of these players are preparing for what could be a season of 60-plus games. That takes time, obviously. What we try and get to is a point where everybody is fit for selection in the first game of the season."