MAN CITY 4
(Edin Dzeko 64, 72, Stevan Jovetic 89, Yaya Toure 90+3)
ASTON VILLA 0
Manchester City took a great stride towards their second Premier League trophy yesterday morning (Singapore time), moving so close that they can smell the silver polish.
Only defeat by West Ham on Sunday would leave the door open for Liverpool now and, given that they have dropped just five points at the Etihad all season, that seems highly unlikely.
Liverpool's title challenge was built on breathtaking reckless abandon, but City's was based on overwhelming strength in every department.
No injuries could hurt them, no loss of form could slow them.
In this, there was no better example than Edin Dzeko.
The Bosnian (right) has not always been a natural fit at City.
Recruited at great expense from Wolfsburg in January 2011, he scored only twice in the league in his first half-season and floundered under Roberto Mancini's authoritative rule.
A player more suited to leading the line with a swifter partner, he hasn't always enjoyed City's system.
But this season, he has always been there when they needed him.
City were struggling against Aston Villa for over an hour.
Faced with a five-man defence, augmented with a deep lying midfield, they found it hard to make space.
All the early running came down the flanks where the tireless Pablo Zabaleta gave everything to breach the backline, but the few opportunities he carved out were squandered, the worst miss coming from Samir Nasri just before the break.
But, as the first hour ticked over, Dzeko stepped up to make the difference, powering into the box and forcing a shot home to send the Etihad into delirium.
Even with all of their money, even with all of their superstars, the fans there remember well their difficult past and all the times when everything went horribly wrong. But not this time.
Dzeko might have felt that he would be out of favour this year.
With Alvaro Negredo scoring freely in the first half of the season and Sergio Aguero making a bold surge for the Player of the Year award, Dzeko made only four starts in the league before the hectic Christmas schedule made rotation a necessity.
Four goals in five games after Boxing Day changed Manuel Pellegrini's mind and Negredo's calamitous loss of form, allied to Aguero's injury problems cemented the Bosnian into the team.
He's a big man and he scored big goals, none bigger than this one.
With Villa's resistance broken, City ran riot, hammering in enough goals to remove any lingering possibility of a Liverpool avalanche against Newcastle robbing them of the title in unprecedented fashion.
If there was any consolation for Liverpool, strangely it was that City were so dominant.
Had Pellegrini's men slipped up, that late capitulation at Selhurst Park on Monday would have seemed all the crueller.
Now, subject to miracles on Sunday, it is irrelevant. Liverpool could have beaten Palace by six or seven and they still would have fallen short.
Perhaps City's season was also nicely summed up with the manner of the fourth goal, a devastating charge from man of the season Yaya Toure.
The Ivorian midfielder was subdued and lethargic last season, but he's back to his best now.
To run half the length of a wet pitch in driving rain in the 93rd minute of the 37th league game of the season concisely demonstrated why he is one of the finest players in the world.
Villa had no answer, no fortifications that he could not breach.
City may not be the choice of the neutral, their overwhelming financial backing diminishes any affection that rivals may have for them, but if they seal it on Sunday, they would have earned this title.
It feels strange to recall the scattergun recruitment technique employed when their owners first arrived, a wild spree that saw them with nine strikers on their books at one point.
Those days are long gone. Now they have a squad so perfectly balanced that they have an option for every occasion and cover for every setback.
Dzeko, the third-choice striker with so much to prove, epitomises the reasons for their success.
BY THE NUMBERS 9 Edin Dzeko's EPL goal tally in City's last 11 games. He has 16 for the season.
$57m The transfer fee City paid Wolfsburg for Dzeko in 2011.
This article was published on May 9 in The New Paper.
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