Even in a week when they pretty much sealed the deal in the Premier League and left Madrid with their Champions League prospects still smelling of roses, there was not an enormous amount of love for Manchester United.
There has not been all season.
Sure, David de Gea, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, among others, were given credit for their displays at the Bernabéu. And faint-praise adjectives – resilient, dogged – found their way into match reports. But the suspicion lingers. This United side are nothing special.
The narrative is repeated to tedium. Their midfield is unfit to polish Roy Keane's Diadora Match Winner IIs. They have a dodgy keeper. They hit frequent flat spots. They are overreliant on Robin van Persie's specials.
And then there is the defence, which has conceded 31 league goals at an average of 1.19 per game – a mean (a word alien to United's back four this season) higher than any English champions since Ipswich shipped 67 goals in 42 games in 1961-62.
But here is the rub: when you compare United's points tally after 26 games to the greatest English sides of the past 30 years, it is up there. In fact way up there.
The United class of 2012-13 have 65 points – not only 14 points better off than the 1999 treble winners at this stage but, incredibly, more than any United side managed by Sir Alex Ferguson after 26 games.
Their tally is also better than Arsenal's Invincibles (64 points after 26 games in 2003-04). And equal to José Mourinho's 2004-05 Chelsea side, who went on to smash the Premier League points record.
Since three points for a win was introduced in 1981-82, only one side have accumulated more than United's 2012-13 vintage after 26 matches: Kenny Dalglish's wonderful 1987-88 Liverpool team with 66 points.
So, what is it to be? Are United much better than they are given credit for – or is the Premier League as uncompetitive as most people outside Sky Sports' promotional department suspect?
Certainly you can make the case for the latter. Manchester City are on an epic post-title comedown. Chelsea seem stuck in some late-Brezhnevian limbo while the old guard cling on. And Arsenal are like a butterfly that has had its wings ripped off one by one.
But is this season's Premier League, say, really any less competitive than in 2010-11 when an average United team ground and pounded their way to the title? This time round they are romping away with it. They surely deserve a lot more credit.
Perhaps because their personnel have not changed much, people do not believe individuals' performances can either. But Michael Carrick is having his best season for at least four years while Evans has improved enormously, too.
And while De Gea gets stick, it's worth pointing out that United have allowed 116 shots on target this season, an average of 4.5 per game. That is higher than every United team – indeed every Premier League winner – since Opta started compiling such data in 2002. De Gea is letting in some but he is keeping plenty out too.
By contrast, Mourinho's Chelsea allowed 83 shots in his first season, while Arsenal's Invincibles were nearly as curmudgeonly.
But perhaps the old maxim, that defences win titles, does not hold like it once did. Changes in the offside rule and the way tackles are punished have tilted football in favour of attackers. Ferguson could be merely playing the odds.
Even one of his 2012-13 side's greatest strengths, their ability to come from behind, is acknowledged begrudgingly; as if they should not have conceded in the first place. But this was a quality venerated in the 1999-2003 sides. Perhaps the critics are taking an instinctive standpoint – they are a modest United team – and fitting the evidence to suit that, rather than judging them on their own terms.
But the narrative can be changed. We forget that the 1998-99 treble-winners, arguably Ferguson's greatest side, had their struggles. After Arsenal beat United 3-0, the Guardian's David Lacey wrote of a "listless, shapeless United side". In November, he warned of the "uncharacteristic errors" that had crept into Peter Schmeichel's game. And following United 3-2 home defeat to Middlesbrough, the Observer's Paul Wilson remarked that "Giggs's touch was poor … and Beckham … put in one of his least substantial performances".
In the midst of the 24-hour news cycle even the most insignificant of facts is stuck under a microscope. But with distance the squabbles and the grind are forgotten: we remember only the most vivid notes. The stunning comebacks against Juventus and Arsenal. Giggs's wonder goal. The feeling that Keane would blast through anything in his way.
Such a reappraisal could yet happen to this United team. Critics will point out that they rarely play well for 90 minutes and are often lucky. And that, between now and May, they will have been found out.
That may well be the case. But, given their record so far, their remarkable tenacity and their knack of winning matches – even when they have been stinking the place out – they surely deserve the benefit of the doubt over the next three months while we find out just how good they are.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © nasmac