Florian Thauvin marked his first start in 15 months with a goal and two assists as Marseille beat Brest 3-2 on Sunday in their opening game of the Ligue 1 season.
World Cup winner Thauvin missed all but 20 minutes of the coronavirus-shortened 2019-20 season with an ankle injury as Marseille came a distant second to Paris Saint-Germain, the club's best finish in seven years.
Coach Andre Villas-Boas hopes the return to full fitness of Thauvin can help the team close the gap on bitter rivals PSG, who start their campaign on September 10 and host Marseille three days later.
"I'm really happy to have scored. It was a very long time out, the first long injury of my career," Thauvin told Telefoot.
"I admit I went through a difficult period but I worked a lot and I'm proud because I didn't give up."
"I think I'm at 70 or 80 percent," he added. "But if you had told me after so long without playing I was going to be at this level, I would have signed right away."
Marseille's scheduled opener last weekend was postponed after they suffered five cases of Covid-19. Dimitri Payet, Bouna Sarr and Alvaro Gonzalez were notable absentees for the trip to Brest as the club reported three further infections this week.
However, goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and left-back Jordan Amavi were cleared to play after stints in quarantine, while Argentine defender Leonardo Balerdi made his Marseille debut after signing on loan from Borussia Dortmund.
Thauvin needed just 20 minutes to fire Marseille in front, gathering possession on the right and slashing inside in trademark style before sweeping home on his left foot via a telling deflection that lifted the ball over Gautier Larsonneur's despairing dive.
His free-kick picked out Duje Caleta-Car to volley in a second on 27 minutes, the goal belatedly awarded after a lengthy VAR review overturned an initial offside decision.
Romain Faivre smashed in his first Brest goal just before half-time as Marseille's vulnerability in their first competitive match since March 6 continued to give the home side reason to believe.
A Gaetan Charbonnier strike was ruled out for offside and the forward then sliced wide of an open goal before Marseille restored their two-goal advantage when another Thauvin free-kick was headed in by Croatian centre-back Caleta-Car.
Charbonnier stabbed beyond Mandanda a minute from time to set up a nervy finish but Marseille clung on as Brest captain Jean-Kevin Duverne's last-gasp header landed on the roof of the net.
Kovac gets first Monaco win
Niko Kovac earned his first Ligue 1 victory as Monaco coach earlier on Sunday as his side won 1-0 at Metz.
Teenage centre-back Benoit Badiashile scored for the second game in a row and Monaco held on despite playing almost half the match a man down following the dismissal of Youssouf Fofana.
"It was a very difficult match, especially in the second half with a player less. The reaction of the team, down to 10, was very good just like last week when they came back from 2-0 down," said Kovac, whose opening game in charge against Reims ended in a 2-2 draw.
"I'm happy to have won, particularly as Monaco's last win came back in February."
Jonathan Bamba continued to rediscover his scoring touch with Lille winning 1-0 at Reims.
Lille winger Bamba, who scored only one goal in 26 league appearances last season, hit his second in two games of the new campaign in the 32nd minute of a dour game.
Bamba crossed his arms across his chest after scoring, dedicating his goal to actor Chadwick Boseman, who played the superhero from "Black Panther" and died on Friday at the age of 43.
Bordeaux are in second place, two points behind leaders Nice, after a 2-0 triumph at Angers courtesy of goals from Nigeria international Josh Maja and Toma Basic.
Nantes are one of five sides on four points, along with Rennes, Lille and Monaco, as they defeated Nimes 2-1 despite finishing the game with just nine men.
Romain Hamouma netted twice for Saint-Etienne in a 2-0 win over promoted Lorient as last season's French Cup runners-up also made a belated start to the new campaign.