Manchester City took a decisive step toward the Premier League title Wednesday night with a 4-0 win against Aston Villa in rainy conditions at the Etihad Stadium.
With the match scoreless at half-time, City seized control with Edin Dzeko's quick double in the second half. Stevan Jovetic and Yaya Toure then wrapped up the points with late goals.
The win took City into first place on 83 points, two points clear of Liverpool with one match remaining. Following a wild run-in that has seen several lead changes atop the table and a memorable collapse by Liverpool, City now appear all but certain to claim their second championship in three years.
Victory on Sunday at home to West Ham United would see City win the title regardless of results. Even a draw would all but secure the title, with City holding a vastly superior goal differential to Liverpool.
Third-placed Chelsea were officially eliminated by Wednesday's result.
City took the attacking initiative in the early exchanges but encountered difficulty breaking down Villa's resolute defending. Aleksandar Kolarov recorded the first shot on target with a rasping effort from a tight angle in the fifth minute, and City came closer still in the 12th minute as Toure's tame shot was cleared.
Kolarov created further danger in the 19th minute, when his cross nearly deflected into the path of David Silva. Before Silva could pounce, Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan was alert to the danger and smothered the ball.
City's best chance of the half came in stoppage time, after a long spell of patient buildup along the edge of Villa's box. James Milner crossed dangerously from the right for Samir Nasri, who met the pass with a well-struck volley, but the shot flew wide of the target and the match remained scoreless at half-time.
The assault on Villa's goal continued early in the second half, with Vincent Kompany directing an overhead volley straight at Guzan in the 51st minute. Kolarov tried a shot directly from a free-kick in the 57th minute, but Guzan saved again.
City made their first substitution in the 60th minute, with Milner departing for Jovetic. Four minutes later, the hosts finally broke through.
Silva started the move in the 64th minute, slotting a pass through to Zabaleta on the right. Zabaleta pulled back into the middle for Dzeko to sweep into the net through Guzan's legs for the opening goal.
Per The Guardian's Daniel Taylor, the goal's catalyst was City's most consistently dangerous attacker on the night.
The mood at the Etihad immediately became more relaxed as the tension waned. Within moments, the celebration was on as Dzeko and City found their second of the night.
Zabaleta was again the source, crossing from the right for Nasri. Guzan managed to save the initial shot, but the rebound fell invitingly for Dzeko, who tapped in to make it 2-0 in the 72nd minute.
Villa weren't finished yet, though, as Andreas Weimann hit the bar with a powerful header in the 83rd minute. The visitors appealed for a goal after the ball bounced directly downward onto the goal line, but replays showed the entire ball had not crossed the line.
There was no such question in the 89th minute as Jovetic sealed the victory with City's third goal. Toure recorded the assist, holding up play in the box before passing back to Jovetic, who sent a low, first-time strike past Guzan to make it 3-0.
City still had time for another. Toure powered through the heart of Villa's midfield before finishing Villa off with the hosts' fourth goal. With that, the Etihad erupted as City pulled within sight of the title.
|Manchester City Player Ratings|
|Stevan Jovetic (for Milner, 60')||N/A||8|
|Fernandinho (for Silva, 76')||N/A||6|
|Alvaro Negredo (for Dzeko, 86')||N/A||6|
Both teams play their final league match of the season on Sunday.
Manchester City host West Ham United, while Aston Villa play at Tottenham Hotspur.