Louis van Gaal has apologised to Tottenham for not becoming their manager and claimed Manchester United will always be a bigger club despite watching his side lose 3-0 at White Hart Lane.
Spurs kept their Barclays Premier League title hopes alive as a six-minute treble from Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela stunned United and reduced the gap behind Leicester back to seven points.
United's Champions League hopes dented
United, meanwhile, are left to play catch-up in the race for Champions League qualification as this defeat sees them trail Manchester City by four points with six games remaining.
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Tottenham's progress under Mauricio Pochettino has been one of the stories of the season but it could easily have been Van Gaal sitting in the home dugout given the Dutchman was chairman Daniel Levy's first choice to take over in the summer of 2014.
"A bigger club"
Asked if he regretted his decision to overlook the job in North London, Van Gaal said: "In the balance, we are still ahead. The challenge is always bigger in a bigger club.
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"I like also to sign for Tottenham Hotspur. Daniel Levy knows that. But the challenge was bigger at Manchester United and shall always be bigger.
"I am sorry for Tottenham but Manchester United will always be the bigger club.
"A little bit pathetic"
"I think it is a little bit pathetic that you ask that because they have won 3-0. It is easy to ask that but it is okay, you enjoy yourself."
United's preparations were far from ideal as their team coach was stuck in traffic and arrived over an hour late, meaning kick-off had to be delayed half an hour.
The disruption seemed to have little effect on the visitors, however, as they put Spurs under heavy pressure during the opening 20 minutes only to capitulate after half-time.
Van Gaal was adamant his side's travel disruption had no bearing on the defeat.
"No, I think in the first 20 minutes we were the better team," he said.
United dormant again
This was the eighth consecutive match United have failed to score more than one goal and while Anthony Martial should have finished off a brilliant run early in the second half, they created precious few clear opportunities.
Wayne Rooney is to continue his recovery from a knee injury with the club's under-21s on Monday but Van Gaal was cautious about the striker's sharpness upon his return.
"We have to wait and see if that is the case," Van Gaal said.
"He shall play on Monday 60 minutes. We will see how he is doing because he is more than two months out of the game.
"Of course he is a great striker but he has to show already if he is in certain shape. It is always like that."
There was some concern over Rooney's England rival Harry Kane, who appeared in discomfort when he hobbled off late on, but Pochettino said the Spurs forward was "okay" and suffering only from a dead leg.
Kane started the move that led to Alli's first goal and Tottenham were relentless thereafter, Alderweireld heading home Lamela's cross, before Lamela slotted in Danny Rose's pass to put United out of sight.
Also not in view was Pochettino, who had momentarily left the pitch to go to the toilet and missed Lamela's third.
"Did I miss the goal? Live, yes. I watched from the TV because I had just left the toilet in the manager's room," Pochettino said.
"I heard the crowd, I was quick to run to the changing room. I stayed calm in the moment because 3-0 and I watched the replay. It was a fantastic goal."
Spurs fight another day
Leicester's win at Sunderland shortly before kick-off threatened to dampen spirits around White Hart Lane but Spurs showed they are not yet ready to give up the fight.
"I think it's true we sent a message that we are there, waiting and fighting," Pochettino said.
"If Leicester fail we need to stay there, it's important. Seven points is a difficult gap to reduce but we need to believe.
"The performance like today, and the result like today, showed that this team believes."
Can Manchester United still make the Champions League? Let us know in the comments!