Until Richarlison's brace Tottenham had been mediocre against a lively Marseille who were the better team until Chancel Mbemba was sent off three minutes into the second half.
Tottenham, who missed out on the Champions league for the past two seasons, did not register a shot on target in a lacklustre first half but Richarlison eventually ensured a perfect start for Antonio Conte's team.
1. Richarlison makes his mark
Until Wednesday, the most memorable contribution from Richarlison came when baited Nottingham Forest as a late substitute with a bit of showboating that saw him scythed down moments later. Yet here, on Spurs' return to the Champions League after a three-year absence, the £60 million acquisition from Everton scored two headers in the final 15 minutes to give Antonio Conte's side a 2-0 win over Marseille in north London.
Both goals benefitted from some substandard defending and a numerical advantage given to them by Chancel Mbemba's 47th-minute red card for fouling Heung-Min Son as he burst through on goal, but Richarlison, who ended the game in tears of joy, gave Spurs the cutting edge they had previously lacked all evening. They were Richarlison's first Tottenham goals -- on his Champions League debut no less -- and provide validation for Conte choosing to break up the Son Heung-Min-Harry Kane-Dejan Kulusevski attacking triumvirate which was so influential last season.
2. Conte improves his Champions League record
There is no doubting Antonio Conte's pedigree in domestic football, winning multiple Serie A titles with Juventus and Inter Milan along with his 2016-17 Premier League title with Chelsea. And the Italian would no doubt rank Tottenham's late scramble into the Champions League qualification places last season as an achievement to sit towards the upper echelons of his career.
But all the while, doubts about his ability to translate that success into Europe's premier club competition have persisted. Conte had won three of his last 15 matches in the competition prior to Wednesday night; his last two campaigns at Inter saw them fail to get out of the group stage before finishing bottom in 2021-22 with one victory from their six games.
For a long period here, it appeared as though Conte would struggle once more. In 37 Champions League games, he has equal amounts of wins and losses (12) to go with 13 draws. Tonight's result was all that mattered but Conte will know performances will have to improve to stay on track in Group D.
3. Son's struggles continue
Son outpaced Mbemba to force the Marseille defender into a last-ditch tackle he mistimed, prompting Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic to brandish a red card (after dropping it on the floor as he attempted to do so). It was, therefore, a pivotal contribution from Son but only a brief flash of the threat he has so often shown in the past.
The 30-year-old South Korea star, who tied with Mohamed Salah for the Premier League Golden Boot last season, is yet to get off the mark in any competition so far this time and found himself one of several Spurs stifled by Marseille's fearsome pressing, particularly in the first half. His individual expected goals was 0.08 from 86 minutes, much lower than Richarlison (0.55), Kane (0.21) and even Kulusevski (0.20) who only played the final 29 minutes at right wing-back.
Son deserves time to come good -- as he surely will before too long -- but the added competition for places at Spurs this season will add the pressure on him to do so.
Tottenham Hotspur: Hugo Lloris 6, Emerson Royal 7, Cristian Romero 6, Eric Dier 7, Clement Lenglet 6, Ivan Perisic 7, Rodrigo Bentancur 6, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg 7, Richarlison 8, Son Heung-Min 6, Harry Kane 6.
Subs: Dejan Kulusevski 7, Japhet Tanganga 6, Ben Davies 6, Matt Doherty 6, Yves Bissouma 6.
Marseille: Pau Lopez 6, Chancel Mbemba 4, Eric Bailly 7, Samuel Gigot 7, Jonathan Clauss 7, Matteo Guendouzi 7, Jordan Veretout 7, Valentin Rongier 7, Nuno Tavares 5, Gerson 6, Luis Suarez 6.
Subs: Leonardo Balerdi 6, Sead Kolasinac 6, Amine Harit 6, Pape Gueye 6, Cengiz Under 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Richarlison, Tottenham.
Two goals on his Champions League debut elevated an average Tottenham performance into a winning one. His second header in particular was excellent.
WORST: Chancel Mbemba, Marseille
The visitors were in the ascendancy until Mbemba's desperate 47th-minute lunge on Son, which reduced his team to 10 men.
Highlights and notable moments
First Champions League game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. First goals for summer signing Richarlison.
frame it pic.twitter.com/KJNoZLlIXz— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) September 7, 2022
You can tell it means a lot for the Brazilian star.
After the match: What the managers, players said
"I remember very well when we signed him, he said 'I can't wait to listen to the Champions League music and to play in this competition. They were important words for me. This morning, I remembered. I said 'Richy, I remember what you said and tonight you have your opportunity. You have a chance. You deserve this, enjoy this moment and try to do your best.' I think he did his best and helped us to get the points." -- Spurs coach Antonio Conte on Richarlison
"Tough game, playing against a really good Marseille team who have had a great start to the season. Difficult in the Champions League, we needed to start strong at home and the sending off helped. In the end Richarlison popped off a couple of goals." -- Spurs captain Harry Kane, to BT Sport
"We should do better from the first minute, we were a bit nervous with the ball but defended well and kept a clean sheet. We have to keep going, do a bit better with the ball but it was a bit easier 11 vs 10." -- Spurs winger Ivan Perisic, to BT Sport
Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- A series of "firsts" for Richarlison. His first Champions League game, his first scores as a Tottenham man, and his first game with multiple headed goals across all competitions.
- Marseille's misery continues in Champions League campaigns of late -- one win and 15 losses in the their last 16 games of the competition.
Tottenham Hotspur: A busy week ahead, with a big Premier League clash at Manchester City on Saturday. Spurs then head to Lisbon to face Sporting CP in Champions League action next Tuesday, then hosting Leicester City in league action on Sept. 17.