All the statistics bar one suggest that Manchester City will win the title. No team have scored more than the 36 goals Roberto Mancini's side have put away after 10 fixtures.

It is almost 11 months since any team won at Eastlands and 12 since Birmingham City kept a clean sheet here. The side Mancini cobbled together for the Carling Cup tie at Molineux last Wednesday cost £121m.

And yet in horse-racing terms, you would ask whether this is a squad that has done course and distance. Of the 11 men Mancini selected for a surprisingly hard-fought victory against Wolverhampton Wanderers, only three have ever won a league championship.

It was this kind of inexperience that ultimately dragged down Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United – who managed a mere 26 goals in the first 10 games – in the frantic spring of 1996. The Everton side of 1894‑95, whose record of goals after 10 games Manchester City have now surpassed, lost the title to Sunderland. Curiously, all three of these teams won one of their opening fixtures 6-1.

"I still don't think we are favourites," said Edin Dzeko, who finally broke through a rugged Wolves defence after Sergio Agüero had charged down Wayne Hennessey's clearance. "There are still a lot of games to play. We have played 10 matches and are five points clear of Manchester United but for me they are still favourites for the title. We are first and want to stay there but United are United, although we are growing up with every game."

Dzeko is one of Mancini's players who know what it takes to win a championship and had celebrated Wolfsburg's triumph in the Bundesliga by lighting a vast cigar on the pitch of the Volkswagen Arena. He said he would be happy to repeat the feat only to be reminded that Manchester City run a no-smoking stadium.

However, it is the Bosnian's experiences in the Champions League that might appear more relevant as City travel to Villarreal this week for a contest that Mancini believes will go a long way towards deciding whether they qualify or are consigned to the thankless slog of the Europa League.

Wolfsburg may have been German champions but they lost their last two group games, including one at home to a Manchester United side so wrecked by injury that Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher played at centre-half. Michael Owen scored a hat-trick and Thursday nights beckoned.

Dzeko is hoping for more luck with City but he has already courted controversy in the competition this season. Thankfully for him, Carlos Tevez's alleged refusal to play against Bayern Munich meant that Dzeko's touchline row with Mancini at the Allianz Arena was rather lost in the wash.

"I apologised afterwards," he said. "Sometimes, it is hard when you play badly and don't score goals. Sometimes, you are angry and that is normal. I played for two and a half years in Germany. I wanted to win and maybe score a goal. In Munich we played well for the first 30 minutes and then nothing."

It was largely with Wednesday night at Villarreal in mind that Mario Balotelli, who had been suspended for Manchester City's first three group fixtures, started on the bench against Wolves. His last Champions League fixture – Internazionale's semi-final against Barcelona in April 2010 – saw him throw his shirt at José Mourinho's feet and stalk down the tunnel for a confrontation with Marco Materazzi.

Mancini will need his strikers to show the same kind of patience in the tight confines of El Madrigal as they did amid the wider spaces of the Etihad Stadium. At half‑time the Wolves manager, Mick McCarthy, thought he could smell the frustration. Most of it was directed at the referee, Stuart Attwell, but some of it was unquestionably because City were encountering rather stiffer resistance than they had met at Old Trafford the previous weekend.

In January, when City briefly and breathlessly clambered to the top of the Premier League, Wolves had fought back from 4-1 to lose narrowly 4-3 in a game remembered for Tevez's stunning contribution.

On Saturday, once Vincent Kompany had been dismissed for hauling back Kevin Doyle, McCarthy nursed hopes that his team might be able to stage a similar recovery. However, 10 months on, there is more maturity and more firepower at Mancini's disposal and Balotelli's breakout was beautifully converted by Adam Johnson.

It may not have possessed quite the epic scale of the crushing of the great enemy at Old Trafford but, as Mancini reflected afterwards, it was another three points and a further step towards the distant, faintly glittering prize.