A Close Look at the Most Promising U23 Players in Serie B

Throughout its 90-year history, Serie B has continuously provided a stage for players both young and old to showcase their talent and impose themselves on the footballing world. The league has most recently helped youngsters Sandro Tonali and Gianluca Scamacca make the leap in quality to play top-flight football.

The 2021-22 Serie B season has been one of the tightest title races in recent years as just a five-point margin separates the top seven teams. This season has seen several youngsters who started the year unknown attract interest from both Serie A and leagues abroad. 

With some on loan and others already becoming key players for their respective teams, let’s take a look at Serie B’s most promising U23 talents in no particular order.

Marco Carnesecchi (Cremonese, on loan from Atalanta)

The 21-year-old goalkeeper has been a part of the Atalanta set-up since 2017 and has quickly become one of the top goalkeeper prospects in Serie B. Carnesecchi has kept six clean sheets in 20 matches for Cremonese this season and has played a crucial role in the Grigiorossi’s push to be promoted. 

His loan spell with Trapani during the 2019-20 Serie B campaign saw him keep 7 clean sheets across 34 matches for a lackluster Trapani side. The Sicilian outfit could not avoid relegation, but Carnesecchi’s performances in goal were one of the few bright spots in their otherwise disappointing season. The Italian was even nominated for the prestigious 2020 Golden Boy award that season.

Carnesecchi has accumulated 42 appearances for the Italian U17 to U21 squads and was called up by Roberto Mancini to join Italy’s senior training camp back in January. He was one of seven players to receive their first international call-up, signifying his growth and potential future with the senior Azzurri squad. 

Caleb Okoli (Cremonese, on loan from Atalanta)

Similar to Carnesecchi, Okoli joined Cremonese on loan this season from Atalanta after spending the previous campaign with SPAL. The center-back has featured 18 times this season, helping Cremonese concede just 21 goals in 22 games.

Born in Italy to Nigerian parents, Okoli has made 16 appearances for Italy’s U19, U20, and U21 squads. The 20-year-old was occasionally called up to Atalanta’s senior team during the 2018-19 season, and he remains another one of La Dea’s most exciting prospects.

Salvatore Esposito (SPAL)

Since leaving Inter for SPAL in 2018, Salvatore Esposito has developed into one of Serie B’s best midfielders. Last season saw the 21-year-old amass 5 goals and 4 goals in 31 games while also showcasing his defensive and dribbling skills. SPAL’s style of play has forced Esposito to adapt his game and play higher up in the midfield pivot. His strength and awareness make up for his lack of pace, and he has proved himself to be one of the best set-piece specialists in Serie B.

His success has helped him escape the shadow of his brother Sebastiano, who has impressed on loan for Basel in Switzerland after impressing with Inter’s first team. This season has seen Salvatore feature in over 20 matches and continue his development on the pitch. He looks destined to play in Serie A sometime in the coming years. 

Samuele Mulattieri (Crotone, on loan from Inter)

Mulattieri has managed to find the back of the net seven times this season despite playing for one of Serie B’s lowest-scoring sides. The Pythagorean striker stands at 1.83 meters and has exceptional positioning, aerial abilities, and finishing. 

Born in La Spezia, Mulattieri played for Spezia’s youth team before joining Inter’s set-up in 2018. While on loan at Dutch second division side Volendam in the 2020-21 season, the 21-year-old boasted a 0.69 goals per 90 minutes scoring ratio as he finished the season with 19 goals and 4 assists in 31 matches. Mulattieri has scored one goal in three appearances for Italy’s U21 squad.

Lorenzo Pirola (Monza, on loan from Inter)

Pirola has become one of Italy’s most exciting defensive talents since leaving Inter to join Monza on loan back in January 2021. The left-footed center-back has been praised for his passing and off-ball play and has established himself in the Biancorossi’s starting 11. Pirola played over 1400 minutes last season as Monza fell short of winning the Serie B play-offs.

Pirola has been limited to just 4 appearances this season because of a knee injury, however, the 19-year-old still has plenty of time to recover and continue his development.

Lorenzo Lucca (Pisa)

Arguably the most recognizable U23 player in Serie B, Lucca has become one of the most sought-after players in Italy. Standing at 2.01 meters, Lucca functions as a target man who relies on his aerial abilities, pace, and composure in the final third to cause havoc to the opposition defense.

Pisa purchased Lucca from Palermo last season after he impressed with the Rosanero in Serie C, scoring 13 goals in 28 games. Pisa got a bargain considering he is now valued at around €5 million, according to Transfermarkt.

The 21-year-old had a phenomenal start to the season after scoring six goals in the opening seven matches, prompting interest from clubs like Juventus, Milan, and Inter. Now, having gone 682 minutes without scoring, Lucca has seemingly lost his scoring boots but still remains a key player in the Pisa squad.

Pisa’s #9 already has 4 caps for Italy’s U21 squad, and he seems destined to play in top-flight football next season, whether it be with Pisa or another club.