The defender scored his first goal of the season in the second half, leading Man United to a hugely important 2-1 victory over the German side. It was the Reds first win in the Champions League this season and Smalling’s goal could be crucial by the end of the group stages.
The 25-year-old has been a key figure at the other end of the pitch for United thus far this campaign, having formed a solid defensive partnership with Daley Blind. The defender has come on leaps and bounds since last season and is starting to show signs of growing into a real world-class centre-back and van Gaal has been delighted with his progress.
Speaking to Manutd.com after the game, the manager was asked if he was pleased with Smalling’s goal: “Of course, he did it already against PSV Eindhoven when he could have scored also and now he scored. I am so happy because it shall give him such a boost.”
The Englishman is a player who must already be high on confidence given his performances this calendar year and scoring winners in the Champions League can only amplify that. Van Gaal has enjoyed watching his first choice central defender this season.
He added: “His development as a player is amazing, so I am very happy with him.”
It seems that van Gaal has helped Smalling develop as a defender, as there has been an obvious improvement in his displays since the Dutchman took charge. The ex-Fulham man is, presumably, one of the first names on the team sheet and has played a huge part in leading United to the top of the Premier League table.
Smalling will want to make sure his side are still at the summit after the game against Arsenal on Sunday. United travel to London to take on the Gunners knowing that a win would open up a six point gap over their title rivals.