(AP) -- It's perhaps the most difficult achievement in all of top-flight British football, and Antonio Conte is on the verge of doing it in his first season at Chelsea.
The Premier League champions seek to become the first team to win 30 matches in a 38-game season as the Blues close out their title-winning campaign Sunday at Stamford Bridge against relegation-bound and last-place Sunderland.
Only two teams in the history of the top-flight have recorded 30-win seasons.
The 1960-61 Tottenham Hotspur squad racked up 31 and 115 goals in 42 matches. The other was the 1978-79 Liverpool team, led by "King Kenny" Dalglish and Graeme Souness under Bob Paisley. That squad yielded just four goals at Anfield and 16 overall to amass a staggering plus-69 goal difference.
In the Premier League era, only Chelsea have flirted with a 30-win campaign, doing so both times in 38-match seasons.
At the apex of Jose Mourinho's first tenure at Stamford Bridge, the Blues posted consecutive 29-win campaigns in 2004-05 and 2005-06. The 2004-05 team was held to a 1-1 draw at Newcastle United on the final matchday. The 2005-06 squad had two opportunities, but first lost 1-0 at Blackburn Rovers and capped their season with another 1-0 defeat at St James' Park.
To provide further proof of how difficult a challenge Chelsea (29-3-5) have taken on, consider Arsenal's "Invincibles" from their unbeaten 2003-04 season had 26 victories and 12 draws, and last year's champions Leicester City had only 23 wins.
Conte is not hiding his desire for a 30th win, something that would further distinguish this season from Mourinho's three previous Premier League champions with the London side. The former Juventus boss addressed the subject head-on following Chelsea's ragged 4-3 win over Watford on Monday as he began celebrating his fourth consecutive domestic title dating to his Serie A days.
"We conceded three but scored four and we created many chances to improve the final result," Conte told Chelsea's official website. "I had a good answer, we won our 29th game in the league which is a great achievement. We have the possibility to win 30 games and we have to try to reach this target. It's important for me and the players."
Conte's decision to chase history shouldn't affect Chelsea's preparation for the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley against Arsenal as they chase a double, more so because he overturned nine players on his starting XI for the Watford match. The Blues have not lifted the FA Cup since 2012, the year they also won the Champions League, but they haven't done the double of a league title and FA Cup trophy since 2010.
But Conte's plan does throw a wrench into the programme of what will be John Terry's last Premier League match in a Chelsea uniform. The manager gave his 36-year-old captain just his fifth league start of the season Monday, and while Terry scored Chelsea's 100th goal of the campaign in all competitions, the lack of match fitness was apparent as he was responsible for one of Watford's tallies.
While the man whom Chelsea fans adore as "Captain. Leader. Legend," will be one of the first players to lift the Premier League trophy after the final whistle Sunday along with fellow central defender Gary Cahill, there is a bittersweet sense about Terry's impending departure that will end a 22-year association with Chelsea. Premier League teams are publicly queuing for his services, which could result in a return to Stamford Bridge in a different kit.
"We will lift it together of course," Terry told the Daily Telegraph regarding Cahill being with him for that initial skyward thrust with silverware in hand. "Me and Lamps (Frank Lampard) did that together for many years here. Gaz has been on the pitch week-in week-out, so it's him allowing me to go with him. He's been different class."
As Terry has been a bit player in Conte's revolution to return Chelsea to the top of the table, fellow defender Cesar Azpilicueta has a chance to duplicate Terry's 2014-15 feat of playing all 3,420 minutes in a title-winning season if he can go the full 90 against Sunderland. The 27-year-old Spaniard has started all but two of Chelsea's 45 overall competitions and along with N'Golo Kante, forms one of the most important non-scoring duos in the Premier League.
On Monday, Azpilicueta became the first player in Premier League history to complete more than 2,000 passes, and he's eager to complete his season-long task while appreciating the journey as Chelsea's right-footed left back following Conte's switch to a three-man back line.
"It's something amazing because during the season you have ups and downs," Azpilicueta told the Daily Telegraph. "The manager showed great confidence in me from the first day, so to be on the pitch for every minute in the Premier League, and to win it, is something I really appreciate. I work a lot to be available for the manager."
Conte returned the sentiment, noting the Spaniard is a "model footballer and able to play in different roles. When you have this type of player it's great for the coach."
As Conte and Chelsea prepare room in the trophy case for more silverware, counterpart David Moyes and Sunderland are bracing for life outside the Premier League for the first time in a decade. The Black Cats (6-6-25) will finish last in the table regardless of the outcome Sunday and unlike their one-year stay in the Championship following relegation in 2006, the fight to return to the top flight will not be an easy one.
Teams are lining up to pick Sunderland bare as players who are unwilling to take a paycut to stay with the team in the Championship will move onto other sides - only three players in Moyes' starting XI in Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Arsenal have contracts beyond this season with the club.
Striker and leading scorer Jermain Defoe is all but certain not to return, and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford received all types of accolades for a valiant effort in which he made 11 saves.
"Every game we keep needing to talk about Jordan and (Tuesday) he made wonder saves at different times for us," said Moyes of his 23-year-old keeper to Sunderland's official website. "I think when you look at his age I find it hard to believe that he's been through the season and made so few mistakes. I've looked at lots of goalkeepers this season and they've made mistakes, but Jordan, who has had a lot of work to do, has done really well."
And truth be told, Moyes is understating just how much work Pickford has had to do. He ranks second in the Premier League with 132 saves in his 28 matches, only nine fewer than Burnley's Tom Heaton despite playing six fewer matches. By comparison, his Chelsea counterpart Thibaut Courtois has needed to make only 67 in 35 league contests.
Sunderland are reportedly considering putting a £30 million transfer price tag on Pickford, and Everton are considered the favourites among his early suitors.
Chelsea are trying to do the double after posting a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture. Cesc Fabregas scored in the 40th minute, and the Blues are seeking their 13th home win over Sunderland in the last 16 matches (12-0-3).
Updated May 19, 2017