The hosts were really poor for large periods of the match, lethargic and sloppy in possession even after Chancel Mbemba was sent off early in the second-half for bringing Heung-min Son down.
But Richarlison, who had a strike ruled out against Fulham in the last match, got two that did count, both with his head, in the space of five minutes as Spurs eventually got the job done.
Antonio Conte made just once change as Ivan Perisic came into the side, with Richarlison and Clement Lenglet keeping their places, while Nuno Tavares and Matteo Guendouzi among those with Arsenal links in the visitors’ side.
Spurs were incredibly passive in the first 45 minutes, flattening the atmosphere as a result. A dragged shot from Harry Kane was as good as it got for them in forward areas in the first-half.
There were better moments for Marseille, Guendouzi having shots from distance blocked and then saved, though the French side failed to make the most of their possession.
The crowd were woken up two minutes after the restart, as the visitors were reduced to ten men. Heung-min Son was away in behind the Marseille defence, Mbemba flew into a challenge as the last man and cleaned the Spurs forward out. The referee wasted little time in producing the red card.
Dejan Kulusevski was brought on after an hour and added some impetus to the Spurs attack, causing Tavares problems when he ran at the wing-back, though the introductions of Ben Davies and Japhet Tanganga when chasing a goal suggested Conte was thinking as much about Saturday’s clash against Manchester City as he was finding a winner.
Richarlison ensured both were possible. On his European debut, he put Spurs in front with a powerful header that proved too good for Maxime Lopez in goal, after a lovely cross from Ivan Perisic.
And it was carbon copy a few minutes later, the Brazilian this time needing the help of the inside of the post as he doubled his and Tottenham’s tally with another brilliant header.