From Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – For 75 minutes, Tottenham’s Champions League return was a rather anti-climactic one.
For all the talk of their comeback, for the snide tweets aimed at Arsenal, for the very own 90min podcast which taunts the Gunners’ European standing, Spurs seemingly endeavoured to shoot themselves in the foot.
They scarcely strung more than four passes together in a dim first-half, their usual trick of playing a straight ball for their forwards to hold up and bring the cavalry into play easily quashed by a resilient Marseille.
It was a display like few others since Antonio Conte took charge – Tottenham’s problems usually stemmed from intensity rather than a simple failing of the basics.
The lilywhites looked stumped and their frustrations were evident. They were, however, given a reprieve when Chancel Mbemba hauled down Son Heung-min when he looked to be through on goal, with the former Newcastle defender receiving his marching orders just after the break.
Nevertheless, Spurs’ stagnation remained. The introduction of Dejan Kulusevski from the bench gave the hosts an extra dimension, but everything around him was still yet to click into place.
Conte then opted to rotate his squad instead of trying to take another tactical gamble, bringing defenders Ben Davies and Japhet Tanganga into the fold.
While in the long-term this could help Spurs considering the daunting schedule ahead, it will almost certainly have been a talking point had they failed to win on Wednesday.
But up stepped Richarlison (literally) to come to Tottenham’s rescue. In a match-winning five minutes, the Brazilian headed home crosses from Ivan Perisic and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, registering their only two shots on target all evening but proving to be decisive ones.
Those contributions made Spurs’ newest hero the man of the moment, the player of the match, but most of his teammates should be thanking him for saving them from a backlash.
Conte and most of his players came close to letting each other down in near equal measure, and there would have been plenty of narratives to run with if Tottenham didn’t secure the three points – the Italian’s European record would have been a standout topic.
Tottenham can ill-afford to run close what should have been a procession in the Champions League again. So far under Conte, they’ve prided themselves on ruthlessness but losing that attribute will make qualification a tougher ask.
They were lucky that Richarlison at least showed that killer instinct this time around.