ETIHAD STADIUM, MANCHESTER, U.K. — The noise inside the Etihad at full-time told the story. Manchester City are within touching distance of their second Premier League title in three years after a resounding 4-0 win over Aston Villa saw them move to the top of the table with one game remaining. A solitary point at home to West Ham on Sunday is all that's needed to confirm them as Champions once again.
They are now two points clear of Liverpool and have established a far superior goal difference going into the final day. The tide appears to be with them, and even City, with their history of spectacular failures, must surely feel confident of delivering a glorious title victory in just four days time.
Having spent just 11 days at the summit of the table all season, it's clear they have flourished right when it matters, and key to that has been Edin Dzeko, a player who has rarely seemed so settled during his three-and-a-half years at the club.
Another two goals tonight set City on their way after a nervy first hour threatened to turn the excitement and optimism in the stands into toxic frustration. The Bosnian's first saw the Etihad erupt, and from that point on, City were comfortable winners.
He's now the top scoring Premier League player since the turn of the year, and his seven goals in his last 10 games have been crucial to City's charge toward glory. While others have wilted as the stakes have risen, Dzeko has demonstrated his ability to score important goals at vital times:
Edin Dzeko: No player has scored more Premier League goals in 2014 than Edin Dzeko (12) #MCFC— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) May 7, 2014
Stevan Jovetic's expert finish made it three and further demonstrated the quality he possesses. Injuries have ravaged his first season in English football, but the quality is there for all to see: vision, a great brain and a creative spark that few players can match mark him out as a real talent. If he can stay fit next term, he could well prove to be central to City's plans.
And the fourth was the best of the lot. Yaya Toure, who remarkably finished below Steven Gerrard in the PFA Player of the Year award list, carried the ball from well inside his own half and evaded desperate challenges from Villa defenders before finishing emphatically past Brad Guzan. It was the archetypal Toure goal and must surely rank as one of the most memorable City have scored all season.
It was the Ivorian's 20th league goal this season, making him only the second central midfielder in Premier League history to reach that amount in one campaign.
Manuel Pellegrini's men have now managed 100 league goals and have Chelsea's record of 103, set under Carlo Ancelotti in 2009-10, in their sights. It would be a fitting end to their season if they could eclipse that mark—reward for the relentless attacking philosophy that has seen them light up the season.
Despite another excellent showing from Toure, it was David Silva who once again emerged as the Man of the Match. He's the finest midfielder in English football and arguably City's greatest ever player. His form during recent months has been remarkable, especially given the ankle problem that has restricted his ability to train. Once again, he was at the hub of City's brightest and best moves, with his pass in the build up to the first goal a beautiful piece of ingenuity that only he is capable of.
And Pablo Zabaleta, so often overlooked outside of City when accolades are handed, was once again superb, a force down the right that Villa struggled to handle. The crowd sang his name throughout, per usual. He's the embodiment of everything that makes this City side so special.
Afterward, Pellegrini spoke of his delight at his side's performance in difficult circumstances and was full of praise for Toure.
Asked if he was happy, the Chilean said, "Yes, very, very happy because I think the team played very well during the 93, 94 minutes. Maybe we didn’t score in the first half but we played well, we had the possession of the ball, we didn’t give any chance to Aston Villa to score and we continued playing patiently to create the space.
"An amazing amount of goals, I am very happy for Yaya because maybe when we start the season he has a lot of criticism because he didn’t have enough power to arrive to the goal. I think Yaya is the absolute complete midfielder in the way we plays. He scores goals, he marks, he is the complete midfielder. He plays with the freedom to do what he thinks is best."
And asked whether he now felt the title would be a special moment for him personally, the usually reserved Pellegrini seemed confident.
"Now we can talk about the title because if we win the next game we are going to win the title. We cannot do the same before this game because we had to beat Aston Villa. I think it will be very important, not only the title but in the way we are going to win the title if finally we win it. I think we have a style of play, I think we are an attractive team, I think we score many goals and we are always thinking to score more goals. That to me has the same importance as winning the title.
"Of course I expect to win the title because now we are top of the table. It is the last game and win the next game and we can win the title. It is a strange season maybe because we were never top of the table."
West Ham, the side City beat 9-0 on aggregate in the semi-final of the League Cup earlier this season, are now all that stands between Pellegrini and a glorious first title as a manager in Europe. Even City fans, known for their pessimism, are starting to believe after the professional, determined and patient way they saw off Villa.
Many believe this City team should have the title sewn up already, and given the quality in their ranks, it's difficult to argue. But their fans won't care a jot if, come Sunday evening, Vincent Kompany is holding aloft the Premier League trophy.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.