Louis van Gaal's managerial skills haven't been praised too often this season. That is probably fair enough: Manchester United were dumped out of the Champions League in the group stages and currently sit in fifth position in the Premier League table.
By no means has it been a season to remember for the Old Trafford faithful - United just haven't been able to produce the goods as an attacking force - but there have been some positives for the Red Devils.
Defensively, United are superb; the statistics back up that notion: Van Gaal's side have conceded just 21 goals in 24 Premier League games this season.
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Only Tottenham, who have conceded just 19 goals in the league, hold a superior record on that front.
United's success at the back is made even more impressive by the fact they have had so many injuries in defence. Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia have all endured tricky periods through injury.
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So, then, with all the injuries United have had, why do they still possess the second best defence in the league?
Of course, there will be an assumption that it has been majorly down to Spaniard David de Gea. The revered goalkeeper, who was close to leaving Manchester in the summer, has once again been in outstanding form, but he has had help.
That's where Daley Blind and Chris Smalling come into focus. In truth, no one saw this centre-back partnership coming...well, except Van Gaal.
The Dutchman surprised us all in pre-season by placing Blind at the heart of his defence. Back then, the dynamic player partnered Jones at the back.
Smalling and Blind partnership
But while Jones has struggled, Smalling has gone from strength-to-strength - and he has done that alongside Blind.
Smalling and Blind really have come to prominence for Manchester United. Near enough every fan and pundit expected the Dutchman to get found out at the heart of the Red Devils' back four, but he has proved them all wrong.
In fact, last night, as the Red Devils played host to Stoke City, Mark Hughes opted to hand Peter Crouch his first Premier League start since March.
Clearly, he thought Crouch would cause Blind a difficult time. How wrong he was. Blind, as he has done time-and-time again this season, used his intelligence and class to get the better of his opponent.
He's the ball playing centre-half Van Gaal loves to have in his team, but he is far more than that. The former Ajax man is quickly establishing himself as a very good defender. It's quite easy to compare him with Barcelona man Javier Mascherano.
Smalling is also getting better-and-better. He really is. The England international rarely puts a foot wrong - he has dominated so many forwards this season - and he's growing in confidence with each passing week.
Gone are his injury problems and he may well be the most improved defender in European football right now. Van Gaal, for once, should be hailed for this masterstroke.
Manchester United fans: have you been surprised by the partnership of Smalling and Blind? Have your say below!
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