For Manchester City everything is now in place. Manuel Pellegrini's team took their time before showing why they are champions-in-waiting, but once they shed their inhibitions they quickly rattled off the goals that took them to 100 for the season and made the arithmetic simple. Anything but a defeat in their final game and City will have sealed their second title in three seasons.

That comes against West Ham on Sunday and what an irony that it will be a year to the day since City lost to Wigan in the FA Cup final, when loud, impassioned chants went round Wembley telling the club's owners in Abu Dhabi to "stick your Pellegrini up your arse". A year on, City are enjoying the view from the top of the table and Pellegrini is on the verge of completing the job that was assigned to him when he took over from Roberto Mancini.

They made the crowd wait and as the game passed the hour-mark goalless, there was the distinct feel of anxiety in the air. Then normal service resumed. Edin Dzeko settled everyone's nerves with two goals in eight minutes and any lingering tensions disappeared with the rain as the substitute Stevan Jovetic and Yaya Touré, City's outstanding player this season, added the late goals that gave the match a slightly deceptive scoreline.

The songs for Pellegrini are very different now and if his team complete their work this weekend, Steven Gerrard may have to grow painfully accustomed to the cruel new ditty commemorating Demba Ba's goal for Chelsea in the game at Anfield that changed everything.

One City fan displayed a banner showing Liverpool's captain and the words: "Caution – We Must Not Let it Slip". Yet the paradox, perhaps, is that there was no great sense of triumphalism. Liverpool's fans have been singing "We're going to win the league" for the past couple of months. It has not been heard once at the Etihad, almost as if the crowd still worry the team might lapse into old ways. Yet it would need something remarkable now: City have already beaten West Ham three times this season, scoring 12 goals in the process.

Pellegrini came out with a wonderful line afterwards. "There are different ways to win titles," he said. "I choose this one: attractive football. We have a style of play. We are an attractive team, we score many goals and we are always thinking to score more. That, to me, has the same importance as winning the title."

They lived up to these words in the second half but it was a struggle until that point and in the more difficult moments, they were unusually short of ideas.

A team in Villa's position could easily have slipped into end-of-season mode but in fairness to Paul Lambert's side, it quickly became clear this was not going to be the case. They defended in great numbers, were quick to the ball and strong in the tackle, and they succeeded in frustrating City during the opening hour.

It was strange to see City look so laboured but the goals finally arrived after Pellegrini had replaced James Milner with Jovetic. David Silva was moved to the right wing and the entire complexion of the game changed within four minutes as the Spaniard played a measured pass for the overlapping Pablo Zabaleta to cross for Dzeko's first goal.

The irony is that Dzeko had been having one of his more static and unimpressive nights. He does, however, have a wonderful knack of scoring important goals and another one arrived after 72 minutes when Brad Guzan kept out Samir Nasri's effort and Dzeko was loitering again in the six-yard area to squeeze in the rebound.

At 2-0 the game was effectively over. There was one brief scare for City when Callum Robinson, one of Villa's inexperienced substitutes, headed across the six-yard area and Andreas Weimann placed the follow-up header against the crossbar.

That apart, however, Villa barely threatened, bar one moment in the first half when a kick out of defence, from a City corner, gave Weimann the chance for a breakaway.

Jovetic made it 3-0 with a precise finish from Touré's layoff and the fourth goal was a beauty. Touré was in the centre circle when he set off on one of those driving runs through the middle, picking up speed, holding off a posse of defenders, and rifling in a clinical right-foot finish. It was his 20th league goal of the season and Pellegrini described him afterwards as "the absolutely complete midfielder".

For City it was the 16th time, in all competitions, they have scored four or more goals and Pellegrini, for the first time, talked openly about winning the league. The open-top bus parade is pencilled in for Monday.