If there were two strong contestants, could either one, winner or loser, say the expression above about the other?
Assuming there is a competition between two strong contestants, and a winner and loser have been determined, consider the following:
- You gave me a run for my money.
- I gave you a run for your money.
Usually 1 implies that the speaker is a winner. That is why the winner can say 1. It would strike me as odd if the loser said 1 because the loser did not win. So the loser can say 2. It implies that the speaker is the loser.
Or, in other words, could a reviewer/commentator use the expression to praise the winner or console the loser?
- Though they lost, they gave last year's champions a run for their money.
1, 2, and 3 are not used to praise the winner. The idiom expresses that the loser performed well. So 1,2, and 3 can be interpreted or used as consolation towards the loser (but not praise towards the winner).
For your reference, the idiom has other meanings.
give you a run for your money
- to be as good at something as someone who is known to be extremely good
He was a very good actor and could have given any professional a run for his money.
- to compete very strongly against someone who is expected to win a competition
I think only Liverpool will be able to give Manchester United a run for their money next season.