Richarlison brace gives Tottenham a winning start against Marseille | Champions League

There was the obligatory pre-match footage of Lucas Moura’s winner at Ajax and then the big-screen statement at Tottenham’s magnificent stadium, the one built to stage this kind of Champions League nights. “We are back.”

For so long, it looked like the big comeback after a two-season absence would fall flat, even when Marseilles were reduced to ten men in the 47th minute following Chancel Mbemba’s last-man foul on Son Heung-min. It was a terrible misjudgment on the part of the former Newcastle centre-half.

Spurs were predictable, paced and they worked to create something clear. That was until the 76th minute when Richarlison got up to make his way and make sure the home crowd could tell each other it was okay when it ended like this.

The £50million summer signing from Everton had yet to find the net for Spurs but he changed all that with a devastating punch, a pair of headers marked by striking power.

Marseille had maintained their form even after the red card, keeping Spurs well at arm’s length but, when Ivan Perisic fashioned a cross from the left and Richarlison began to drift, they were extinguished. The slip was decisive. Pau López, the former Spurs goalkeeper, was exposed and he was beaten by the sheer force of Richarlison’s connection.

The second was even more devastating, with Richarlison getting the better of Samuel Gigot to head home from a Pierre-Emile Højbjerg cross after Marseille had half cleared a corner on the other side.

There would be angry exchanges in the stands at the full-time whistle, with Marseille supporters clashing with police, who had come to separate them from their Spurs counterparts. Objects were thrown and it appeared that a Pride flag had been ripped off. On the pitch, however, Spurs had gotten what they wanted.

Tottenham’s previous Champions League game was the last 16 defeat in the second leg at RB Leipzig in March 2020. It was a disheartening night, with José Mourinho’s injured side still feeling destined to come out, and there was a stark contrast in the pre-match optimism here, the noise and energy rising at kickoff. And yet, the first half would end with a handful of boos from Spurs support.

They were upset because it was turgid food. Spurs wanted to pinch possession and transition but, with Marseille dictating the tempo and closing up spaces, there was little they could do. Antonio Conte’s side struggled to put pressure on the ball and it was good for them that Hugo Lloris beat a Matteo Guendouzi drive in the 45th minute.

Richarlison heads home his second goal of the game. Photography: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Guendouzi, the former Arsenal midfielder, heard predictable taunts, as did Nuno Tavares, who is on loan from north London rivals Spurs. Marseille have 12 players with past or current links to Premier League clubs and 11 of them were in the matchday squad. The strange man? The suspended Alexis Sánchez, also previously from Arsenal.

Marseille were good in the first half, especially in the man-to-man duels. Guendouzi was in the foreground, their passing rhythms flowing. Harry Kane fell deep to tie Spurs’ game, but it was a thin mush for his team.

Kane snuck inside from the right in the 34th minute to see Tavares block and soon after he had a slightly clearer opener. Fed by Son on the right side of the box, he was faced with Eric Bailly. Kane took the shot early and dragged it away from the far post.

Conte sent his players on a few minutes before Marseilles for the second half – always a sign that it wasn’t good enough – and he saw the color of the game change with the dismissal.

Kane took Son into space and, after giving Mbemba a head start, the Spurs striker engulfed the ground. Mbemba started off on the wrong foot, the tackle was also ill-timed and, when Son fell, the referee, Slavko Vincic, had only one decision to make.

Igor Tudor retained his wing-back system for Marseille, he brought Guendouzi back into a three-man midfield and asked Spurs to break up his squad. Conte introduced Dejan Kulusevski at right-back, looking for a bigger punch, and the Swede faltered, rounding the back of the Marseille defense and then seeing a shot deflect off target.

Another former Arsenal player, Sead Kolasinac, who came on as a substitute, nearly replaced fellow substitute Amine Harit in the 75th minute before Richarlison fired Spurs home. Ben Davies, another substitute, would keep the clean sheet, producing an excellent block with the game’s final action.

“When we signed Richarlison he said he was looking forward to playing in the Champions League and listening to the music,” Conte said. “Those were important words and this morning I reminded him of them. I said to him: ‘Tonight you have your chance, take advantage of this moment and try to do your best.’ He did that.

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