And they did exactly that with a seventh win in eight games this season and an 11th in 12 against previously-unbeaten Villa.
Roberto Mancini left David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri on the bench, so Balotelli was the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation.
Guy MowbrayBBC Match of the Day commentator
It was an absolute coast for Manchester City. The fourth goal was absolutely brilliant, it was the crowning moment. It was a little embarrassing for Aston Villa at times. I think next Sunday's Manchester derby is going to be an absolute cracker with City going there as top dogs.
That left the hosts - also without the injured Sergio Aguero - looking thin for attacking options early on and they struggled to unpick Villa's well-organised back four.
In fact, Villa should have taken the lead when Agbonlahor shrugged Joleon Lescott aside on the left touchline and burst into the box. Hart spread himself and Warnock's follow-up was deflected wide.
A let-off for City, indeed, but it proved to be Villa's only chance of the half and they were soon punished by Balotelli's brilliance.
The Italian saw one shot skim the post via a Milner flick and another palmed to safety before striking at the third time of asking.
Villa failed to clear a Johnson corner and after the ball was controlled by Micah Richards, Balotelli acrobatically delivered his fourth goal in four games.
City seemed content to sit on their advantage until the break and then pushed on again at the start of the second half.
However, the doubling of their lead was all to do with a woeful piece of Villa defending.
Man City can win title - Alex McLeish
Yaya Toure sent over a hopeful cross-field pass that Warnock attempted to clear with a bicycle kick, only to calamitously set Johnson up for a low finish past Given.
Warnock hung his head in shame but Villa's afternoon swiftly took another turn for the worse as Kompany easily headed home from Johnson's corner.
A momentary lapse of concentration from City gave Villa hope of an unlikely comeback, Agbonlahor's cross finding its way to the back post and Warnock firing in off the bar.
That was the first home goal City had conceded in the Premier League this season, but they were quick to reassert their authority with an excellent fourth.
Milner found Johnson with a majestic cross-field ball, advanced to the edge of the box, took the return pass in his stride and bent home a delightful first-time finish.
Effort from the edge of the box by Vincent Kompany goes wide of the left-hand post.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Stephen Warnock on James Milner. Free kick taken by Kolo Toure.
Gabriel Agbonlahor has an effort at goal from outside the area which goes wide right of the goal.
David Silva takes a shot. Shay Given makes a comfortable save.
Alan Hutton concedes a free kick for a foul on Mario Balotelli. Free kick taken by Nigel De Jong.
David Silva gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Alan Hutton. Free kick crossed left-footed by Barry Bannan, Gael Clichy manages to make a clearance.
Free kick taken by Nigel De Jong.
Booking Caution for Barry Bannan.
Barry Bannan challenges Nigel De Jong unfairly and gives away a free kick.
The ball is crossed by Stephen Warnock, clearance by Gael Clichy.
Substitution Owen Hargreaves is brought on as a substitute for Adam Johnson.
The offside flag is raised against Mario Balotelli.
Free kick taken by Richard Dunne.
Substitution Owen Hargreaves on for Adam Johnson.
The official flags Mario Balotelli offside.
Substitution Marc Albrighton comes on in place of Fabian Delph.
Close range effort by David Silva goes wide of the left-hand upright.
Gareth Barry provided the assist for the goal.
70:23 Goal scored
Goal - James Milner - Man City 4 - 1 A Villa James Milner finds the net with a goal from just outside the box to the top right corner of the goal. Man City 4-1 Aston Villa.
The offside flag is raised against Darren Bent. Gael Clichy takes the indirect free kick.
Fabian Delph challenges Adam Johnson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Nigel De Jong restarts play with the free kick.
Substitution Gnegneri Toure Yaya leaves the field to be replaced by David Silva.
Substitution Kolo Toure joins the action as a substitute, replacing Micah Richards.
Assist on the goal came from Charles N'Zogbia.
64:02 Goal scored
Goal - Stephen Warnock - Man City 3 - 1 A Villa Stephen Warnock finds the back of the net with a goal from inside the box to the top right corner of the goal. Man City 3-1 Aston Villa.
Indirect free kick taken by Shay Given.
Substitution Barry Bannan comes on in place of Emile Heskey.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by James Milner, Foul by Micah Richards on Shay Given, free kick awarded.
Richard Dunne restarts play with the free kick.
Booking Gareth Barry goes into the book.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Gareth Barry on Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Foul by Emile Heskey on James Milner, free kick awarded. Joe Hart takes the indirect free kick.
Stiliyan Petrov fouled by Gareth Barry, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick crossed right-footed by Stiliyan Petrov, clearance by Gareth Barry.
Substitution (Aston Villa) makes a substitution, with Charles N'Zogbia coming on for Stephen Ireland.
Adam Johnson provided the assist for the goal.
Inswinging corner taken by Adam Johnson from the right by-line played to the near post,
The assist for the goal came from Adam Johnson.
51:47 Goal scored
Goal - Vincent Kompany - Man City 3 - 0 A Villa Vincent Kompany grabs a headed goal from close range. Man City 3-0 Aston Villa.
Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Adam Johnson,
Gareth Barry takes a shot. Save by Shay Given.
Mario Balotelli takes a shot. Comfortable save by Shay Given.
Assist by Gnegneri Toure Yaya.
46:23 Goal scored
Goal - Adam Johnson - Man City 2 - 0 A Villa Goal scored by Adam Johnson from the edge of the area to the bottom left corner of the goal. Man City 2-0 Aston Villa.
Fabian Delph sends in a cross, Emile Heskey takes a shot. Blocked by Gael Clichy.
The second half kicks off.
45:00 +1:00 Half time
Half Time The ref blows to signal half-time.
Shot by Nigel De Jong from outside the box goes high over the target.
Foul by Vincent Kompany on Stephen Ireland, free kick awarded. Stephen Warnock produces a cross, Emile Heskey has a header from close range and clears the crossbar.
Gnegneri Toure Yaya concedes a free kick for a foul on Stephen Ireland. Free kick taken by Stephen Ireland.
Emile Heskey gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on James Milner. Nigel De Jong takes the free kick.
Darren Bent takes a shot. Joleon Lescott gets a block in. Stephen Warnock takes a shot. Save made by Joe Hart. Adam Johnson takes a shot. Blocked by Richard Dunne.
Foul by Nigel De Jong on Fabian Delph, free kick awarded. Indirect free kick taken by Ciaran Clark.
Gael Clichy sends in a cross.
Assist on the goal came from Micah Richards.
27:48 Goal scored
Goal - Mario Balotelli - Man City 1 - 0 A Villa A goal is scored by Mario Balotelli from close in high into the middle of the goal. Man City 1-0 Aston Villa.
Corner taken left-footed by Adam Johnson,
A cross is delivered by Micah Richards, blocked by Stephen Ireland.
The referee penalises Gabriel Agbonlahor for handball. Vincent Kompany takes the free kick.
Short corner worked by James Milner.
Mario Balotelli takes a shot. Save made by Shay Given.
Gnegneri Toure Yaya takes a shot. Save made by Shay Given.
Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Adam Johnson.
Effort from inside the six-yard area by James Milner hits the post. Foul by Nigel De Jong on Stephen Ireland, free kick awarded. Stephen Warnock restarts play with the free kick.
Nigel De Jong challenges Fabian Delph unfairly and gives away a free kick. Richard Dunne restarts play with the free kick.
James Milner takes a shot. Foul by Nigel De Jong on Stephen Ireland, free kick awarded. Stephen Warnock takes the free kick.
Gnegneri Toure Yaya delivers the ball, Shot by Mario Balotelli from deep inside the penalty area misses to the right of the goal.
Gabriel Agbonlahor takes a shot. Save made by Joe Hart. Stephen Warnock takes a shot. Vincent Kompany gets a block in. Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Stiliyan Petrov from the right by-line, Joleon Lescott makes a clearance.
Foul by Mario Balotelli on Stiliyan Petrov, free kick awarded. Shay Given takes the free kick.
The game gets underway.
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