Smalling has enjoyed an excellent season, making over 50 appearances under van Gaal over the course of the campaign.
“It’s just about repaying him really,” Smalling said.
“He puts a lot of responsibility on the players and he gives us our tactical knowledge along with the other coaches, but it’s that trust to know you’re going to be playing and he’s going to put that faith in you.
“He puts himself forward and takes some of the pressure off us. There’s pressure on us as well, but he’s very good at deflecting it because he knows we need to perform on game day.
“Even when you’ve not got the captain’s armband, there’s that many eyes on you, at Manchester United you have to perform.”
Van Gaal has his critics, and rightly so, but the performances of Smalling have been a huge plus point of his reign.
There were concerns for Smalling at the start of the season as injuries and being played out of position had seen his displays suffer at Old Trafford. But van Gaal has made Smalling a mainstay of his defence and the 26-year-old has responded in kind. Along with Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and Tottenham Hotspur’s Toby Alderweireld, Smalling has arguably been one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League.
The challenge for Smalling now is to maintain that form over the coming years, possibly under a new manager as rumours continue to link United with a move for Jose Mourinho.