Smalling has started the season promisingly, even if a few have been a little carried away with his level of performance. It's hard to see him being dislodged from his starting berth at centre-back this season, though he'll need to show absolute consistency if he's to prove he's good enough for a side with continental ambitions in the long run.
What was initially supposed to be a stop-gap measure has become worryingly indefinite. Daley Blind has now started all of United's games at centre-back this season, despite little to suggest he's capable of playing there against quality opposition. He's doubtless an intelligent player and his positioning is good, though in the defeat to Swansea City he was bullied by the physical striker Bafétimbi Gomis. Against players like Diego Costa, things would be even uglier.
The bad news is that it may take a while for Van Gaal to realise this fact, as his glacial acceptance that Ander Herrera was United's most capable midfielder demonstrated last season. Confidence in players is a good thing; blind confidence (no pun intended) is not.
Fortunately the deadline day rumours of a Marcos Rojo exit proved untrue, and the Argentine should hopefully be back featuring soon. He's been given an awfully long time off in the aftermath of his appearance at the Copa América in the summer, though we'll surely see more of him in the near future. His debut season at United was far from perfect, and he's clearly not of the top-tier standard that United were looking to acquire for the defence in the transfer market. Nevertheless, he's not only a proper centre-back, but he's useful: quick, strong, and a little bit bonkers, it'd be nice to see him reclaim his position alongside Chris Smalling.
One of United's best summer signings. Despite being unable to speak English, the 25-year-old has seemingly had no problems settling in, starting the season as one of United's top performers. Sturdy at the back and offering some genuine thrust going forward (a quality alarmingly lacking in Van Gaal's current set-up), he'll hold onto that position without any trouble.
It still remains to be seen whether Shaw really is good enough to be a fixture in the United team for a decade, though he steadily improved towards the end of last season, and has started the new campaign with promise -- and, just as importantly, in the shape one would expect of a professional sportsman. It's just as well, as he's the only natural left-back in the entire squad.
The court jester, and little more.
Defensively capable and offensively hopeless. That makes him exactly half as good as Matteo Darmian, and means we should hope to see him as little as possible this season.
Louis van Gaal seems to like him, but the jury's very much still out. All we can say for certain is that he's better than Tyler Blackett.